The Russians are coming. Again.

What are they trying to do this time? The same thing, with a twist:

“Incite Racial Violence, Experts Say.”

Russia’s lead intelligence agency, the S.V.R., has apparently gone beyond 2016 methods of interference, when operatives tried to stoke racial animosity by creating fake Black Lives Matter groups and spreading disinformation to depress black voter turnout. Now, Russia is also trying to influence white supremacist groups, the officials said; they gave few details, but one official said federal investigators are examining how at least one neo-Nazi organization with ties to Russia is funded.

Other Russian efforts, which American intelligence agencies have tracked, involve simply prodding white nationalists to more aggressively spread hate messages and amplifying their invective. Russian operatives are also trying to push black extremist groups toward violence, according to multiple officials, though they did not detail how.

In Chapter 25 of How I Learned The Facts of Life, I get into what the Russian troll farm had been up to during our 2016 presidential campaign. Most of my factual information came from the Mueller Report which was extraordinarily detailed and specific.

What most alarmed and offended me were the Russian social media operations specifically targeting U.S. minority groups believed to vote overwhelmingly Democratic or progressive, seeking to create antagonism to Hillary Clinton, encouraging them to vote either for a third-party candidate, or to support Bernie Sanders, or to be so disgusted they wouldn’t vote at all.

We as a nation have a disgraceful history of slavery, of segregation, and of denigrating and mistreating new ethnic groups who migrate here. The nation also has a parallel history of complex assimilation into an American “culture,” which grants each of us a self-determined and fluid multiple identity beyond stating, “I am American.”

I, for one, am a second-generation American, a New Yorker, a secular Jew whose grandparents emigrated from Poland, Russia (now Ukraine) and France. That the Russians would perceive my identities – and the multiple identities of African-Americans – as exploitable weaknesses infuriated me.

Our multiple identities are our strength and should be our ebullience. Never should our self-identification be corrupted, manipulated, turned inward into a passive object for cynics, let alone foreign entities, brandishing fake news and agitation through fake names.

Do you sense I’m still furious?

I had my doubts that African-American activist organizations bit into the 2016 Russian campaign and I haven’t seen any credible research into how many voters in ethnic and racial groups targeted by the Russians did not vote, or voted for third party candidates.

But, as always the optimist, I’m finding the tweaks the Russians have made in stirring up discord fairly encouraging. Because, no matter what any data show about whether African-Americans did not vote for Hillary because of Russian lies, the Russians themselves now seem to recognize it’s harder to influence Democratic voters than to incite violence among white supremacists.

Yes, this is optimistic. And it perversely confirms a funny little thing I learned about fake news during the 2016 campaign: it doesn’t work on liberals.

In 2016, a jobless computer science graduate student in Georgia – the country, not our state – decided to make a living from publishing extreme political “news” for Americans, in fulsome support of Hillary Clinton.

“I don’t know why, but it did not work,” said the student, Beqa Latsabidze, 22, who was savvy enough to change course when he realized what did drive traffic: laudatory stories about Donald J. Trump that mixed real — and completely fake — news in a stew of anti-Clinton fervor.

And, even more pointed, is this little tale of fake news “entrepreneur,” Jestin Coler, who discovered that when his writers tried to write fake news for liberals, they flopped.

I was introduced to Jestin Coler by Laura Syndell in her excellent, thorough, clear-minded post-election article, “We Tracked Down a Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs: Here’s What We Learned,” from NPR.

Here are two paragraphs telling you pretty much everything you need to know about the audience for fake news. I’ve bolded the last sentence, because it’s my favorite; I got a solid snicker out of it.

During the run-up to the presidential election, fake news really took off. “It was just anybody with a blog can get on there and find a big, huge Facebook group of kind of rabid Trump supporters just waiting to eat up this red meat that they’re about to get served,” Coler says. “It caused an explosion in the number of sites. I mean, my gosh, the number of just fake accounts on Facebook exploded during the Trump election.”

Coler says his writers have tried to write fake news for liberals — but they just never take the bait.

So, yeah. The Russians definitely have a better chance of stirring up trouble among the white supremacist minority than with the Democratic liberal majority.

 

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