Monday the Washington Post revealed that among the 3,000 Facebook ads purchased by Russia between 2015 and 2016 there were ads promoting Black Lives Matter and also ads attacking the group:
The batch of more than 3,000 Russian-bought ads that Facebook is preparing to turn over to Congress shows a deep understanding of social divides in American society, with some ads promoting African American rights groups, including Black Lives Matter, and others suggesting that these same groups pose a rising political threat, say people familiar with the covert influence campaign.
Wednesday CNN added a bit more to this picture by revealing where the BLM ads were targeted. However, the CNN story also seems to suggest there was only one ad which could alternately be seen as either pro-BLM or presenting BLM as a threat:
At least one of the Facebook ads bought by Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign referenced Black Lives Matter and was specifically targeted to reach audiences in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, sources with knowledge of the ads told CNN…
The Black Lives Matter ad appeared on Facebook at some point in late 2015 or early 2016, the sources said. The sources said it appears the ad was meant to appear both as supporting Black Lives Matter but also could be seen as portraying the group as threatening to some residents of Baltimore and Ferguson.
New descriptions of the Russian-bought ads shared with CNN suggest that the apparent goal of the Russian buyers was to amplify political discord and fuel an atmosphere of incivility and chaos, though not necessarily to promote one candidate or cause over another.
I highlighted that bit above because it’s significant. If you watch the video below of Dylan Byers reporting this on CNN yesterday you’ll see he emphasizes this point several times, i.e. the goal was to sow chaos and attack the U.S. democracy, not necessarily to favor one candidate or the other. In mid-September 2016, that’s exactly what an unnamed intelligence source told Reuters about the Russian efforts:
“Putin’s real objective here, the best we can tell at this point, is not simply to promote one candidate or another or to throw the election, but to discredit the very concept of Western democracy,” said a U.S. intelligence official who is assessing the Russian campaign.
Several months later, in January 2017, the intelligence community put out a report which said the same thing about Russia’s desire to undermine democracy but added that the Russian effort was also aimed at making Hillary lose and supporting Trump.
We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.
Notice there are three goals here: 1) undermine US democracy, 2) hurt Clinton, and 3) help Trump. The media has been fixated on #3, to the point that I suspect a lot of people have forgotten all about points 1 and 2.
But as I argued here, comments by FBI Director Comey earlier this year put the emphasis on Putin’s interest in making Hillary lose. Using the language of the IC report, Comey told Congress, “Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flip side of that coin was that he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.” Asked when Putin developed this preference for Trump, Comey added, “Logically, when he wanted her to lose.”
I’m bringing all of this up not to suggest that Putin didn’t take sides in the election, he did. But a lot of what Putin actually did was about goal #1, i.e. amplifying as much U.S. social chaos as possible to undermine our process. If you turn on RT or RT America, the propaganda channels run by the Kremlin, you’ll see that Putin has been doing this quite openly for several years already.