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  • In the days before the 2008 presidential election, a hoax started circulating in parts of Virginia.

  • It was a paper flyer that saiddue to larger than expected voter turnout,” Republicans

  • should vote on election day and Democratic party supporters should vote the day after.

  • Fast forward eight years later, and images show up on Twitter claiming to be Hillary

  • Clinton ads. They told people they could vote by texting.

  • It's not a coincidence that this image features a Black woman,

  • just like it wasn't a coincidence that the hoax flyers in 2008 weredistributed in

  • predominantly African American areas.” Fifty-five years after the Voting Rights Act

  • banned racial discrimination in elections, the Black vote is still being targeted.

  • And now, voter suppression has gone digital.

  • Twitter now has a policy explicitly banning misleading information about voting procedures.

  • Facebook and YouTube do too. But there are other types of digital voter

  • suppression that may be harder to tackle. MItchell: people were sharing images that

  • were telling people not to vote. Shireen Mitchell is tracking digital voter

  • suppression ahead of the 2020 election after seeing the tactics deployed four years ago.

  • This Instagram post from October 2016 encouraged people toboycottthe election. It came

  • from an account called woke_blacks, and was posted with a caption that said regardless

  • of who wins, “we are on our own.” Mitchell: So you basically are saying, you

  • know, why should we bother if there's no campaign that's going to focus on our issues? And so

  • that's one of the ways in which this works. And this ad on Facebook from a page called

  • Blacktivist simply encouraged people to vote for the third-party candidate.

  • These posts, and many others like them, were uploaded by Russian operatives as part of

  • a multi-year strategy to promote discord in the US and help elect Donald Trump.

  • That effort involved more than 60,000 Facebook posts, 116,000 Instagram posts and 10 million

  • tweets from Russian accounts impersonating Americans.

  • Deen Freelon: There were those who posed as sort of white conservatives. And these were

  • kind of Trump-supporting individuals. Then you had what I call a nonblack leftists. And

  • the third category was sort of Black protesters, Black left wing protesters.

  • In a study of the Russian Twitter activity, Freelon found that there were fewer Black-presenting

  • accounts than right-wing accounts, but on a per-tweet basis, they received higher

  • engagement in the form of likes, retweets, and replies.

  • Those tweets coincided with the rise of the Black Lives Matter protests following the

  • killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Freelon: And so you have this convergence

  • of the Black Lives Matter and pro-black politics with Russian attempts to interfere in American

  • politics and specifically in American elections. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee,

  • no single group was targeted by the Russian operatives more than African-Americans.

  • The accounts built an audience by publishing content celebrating Black excellence and by

  • decrying police brutality. And then around the election, they told their

  • followers not to vote and celebrated non-participation. We don't know the ultimate effects of those

  • posts, but they give us a sense of the tactics we might see again from both Russia and from

  • domestic actors in 2020. Mitchell: I've seen campaigns pick up the

  • same tactics for 2016 that Russia was using for themselves in their own campaigns. We're

  • seeing domestic actors pick up the same exact tactics.

  • Black voters participate in elections at higher rates than Asian and Hispanic Americans.

  • And for the past 16 years, the Republican party has only been able to attract single

  • digit support from Black voters in presidential elections.

  • That's less than any other racial, gender, age, or income demographic. And it puts them

  • at high risk for voter suppression by those who may conclude they have little

  • to lose by reducing the Black vote. Residential and economic segregation have

  • provided ways to target vote suppression. “A federal appeals court struck down a North

  • Carolina voter ID law, saying its provisions deliberately target African-Americans with

  • almost surgical precision.”

  • “A racially-charged robocall is making its way through Detroit tonight.” “The call

  • falsely claiming that mail-in voters will have their personal information shared with

  • law enforcement.” And social media platforms enable targeted

  • messages too. When this Russian account bought a Facebook

  • ad promoting Jill Stein, they used targeting categories that Facebook offered, including

  • people with an interest inpan-Africanism, African-American civil rights, and African-American

  • history.” And even in non-paid posts, replies and mentions

  • allow anyone to try to insert themselves into the in-group discussions of specific communities

  • online. This year Facebook prohibited paid ads that

  • tell people not to vote. Twitter has banned political ads altogether. And since 2016,

  • they've both caught and removed several networks of inauthentic accounts.

  • Mitchell: You've seen Facebook and Twitter say they've removed x y z accounts. And I'm

  • guessing this is daunting for them. But the problem is that it's not going to stop.

  • 2020 is already bringing an environment ripe for misinformation and confusion. States are

  • changing their procedures due to the coronavirus pandemic, and voters may feel less safe gathering

  • at polling places. Meanwhile, President Trump has baselessly

  • claimed that voting by mail leads to massive fraud, a form of indirect vote suppression

  • that Facebook and Twitter have handled inconsistently. It's more important than ever for voters

  • to distinguish good information about voting from suppressive and unreliable sources, which

  • unfortunately, this year includes the President of the United States.

In the days before the 2008 presidential election, a hoax started circulating in parts of Virginia.

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What voter suppression looks like online

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/10/08
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