Fake “Blacktivist” Accounts on Social Media
By Isabel Paner
Posted on December 1, 2017 at 11:20 PM PDT
Fake Black activist accounts under the handle Blacktivist have been linked to the Russian government as part of their attempt to amplify racial tensions in the U.S. and influence the 2016 election. The Facebook and Twitter accounts regularly posted content aimed to incite outrage and divide Americans, including videos of police brutality against African-Americans.
"We live under a system of racism and police are directly letting us know how they feel and where we stand,” read the caption underneath a video posted by their Facebook account, which was from an incident in July reported in the San Diego Union where a police dog was seen biting an African-American man in handcuffs.
The Facebook account amassed 360,000 likes, which was more than the verified Black Lives Matter account, which had 301,000. According to CNN, “The page also publicized at least seven rallies and demonstrations around the country in 2016.” These events included the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party March and a march commemorating the death of Freddie Gray.
"Black people should wake up as soon as possible," posted the Twitter account. "Black families are divided and destroyed by mass incarceration and death of black men," another tweet read.
But despite the Blacktivist accounts quickly gathering a following, others were suspicious of the account that had popped up out of nowhere without an identity behind who ran it. Heber Brown III, a pastor, community organizer, and activist from Baltimore “thought it was just another person who wanted to take advantage of the misery and pain of black people in Baltimore.” Another activist, Jamye Wooten, thought it might have been undercover police spying on protesters.
Neither had any idea it would actually be the Russian government.
The passionate rhetoric posted by these Blacktivist accounts had seemed to fool the public, promoting Black Lives Matters protests and interacting with activists online in a realistic way. After contacting the account, Wooten said the page “did a good job of creating an online narrative.”
In another exchange between Brown and the Blacktivist Facebook page, Brown criticized the imposter for organizing a rally without starting a conversation and listening to other activists first. The page’s response is seemingly sympathetic and apologetic.
Experts in Russian History and US Civil Rights as reported by the Guardian UK said that even though Black Lives Matter did not play a role in the US election and Blacktivist accounts were not directly linked to it either, Russia still capitalized on existing racial tensions in the US by using these accounts to create distrust and exacerbate divisive attitudes.
“I found it very disturbing that there was this orchestrated, well-funded attempt to exploit our divisions,” Antonio French told the Guardian. French is an activist and Black Lives Matter supporter from Ferguson.
For activists, the propaganda is frustrating and shifts the attention from systemic racism in the U.S. “Our biggest concern is our local government, how black lives are being treated in America, not so much Russia’s possible interference,” Wooten explained to the Guardian. “That’s not anywhere near the top of our list of concerns.”