Step back for a moment to 2015 and 2016 and the run up to the historic Trump-Clinton Election. Maybe you saw or clicked on a Facebook ad depicting two black men handcuffed in Colorado for “driving while black.” That ad targeted people who Facebook determined were interested in Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Black history. Or maybe you clicked on another ad posted minutes later by the same firm to the same target audience that read, “police brutality has been the most recurring issue over the last several years.” Or maybe you clicked on a different ad posted by the same firm for a Facebook page titled, “Back the Badge,” which was the firm's most successful page. “Back the Badge,” cost $1,785 to advertise, It targeted 20- to 65-year-olds interested in law enforcement who had already liked pages such as “The Thin Blue,” “Police Wives Unite” and the “Officer Down Memorial Page,” and received 1.3 million Facebook impressions and 73,000 clicks.
If you notice something odd about the same firm advertising “Back the Badge” and “police brutality has been the most recurring issue” - you are not alone. These adds came from the Russian Firm, Internet Research Agency, now charged by the US government with attempting to meddle in the US 2016 presidential election. In terms of meddling in our election, the initial consensus between pundits was that it was a failed attempt, a drop in the bucket; the firm reached just 126 million people on Facebook, which made up only a tiny fraction of the 3.3 trillion Facebook posts during that time period. And the firm often ran ads the might support each candidates position - or at least galvanize members on each side of the aisle. However, in December the US Senate Intelligence Committee released a report stating the campaign may have proved more far-reaching and effective than previously understood. The real takeaway message is not whether the Internet Research Agency directly changed the outcome of our election, but how they targeted Americans.
After USA Today Network reporters reviewed each of the 3,517 ads promoted by the Russian Firm on Facebook, they found the ads overwhelmingly focused on what is arguably America’s rawest political division: Race. More than half, about 1,950 ads, made direct references to race, and a majority of the latter referenced racially charged topics like immigration, policing, and Muslim-American communities. Interestingly, the firm consistently targeted both sides of racially charged issues - as experts believe, attempting to increase polarization between people in America.
While it is difficult to measure how much direct influence the Russian Firm, Internet Research Agency, had on our election - it is clear the company at least successfully added to the polarization we are currently feeling. Race is the topic to stoke charged polarization - because for years white people in particular were actively taught not to hear, see, or speak about white privilege and racism as it truly exists (we do not mean bigotry - read hear for what we do mean). The truth is we need to teach what Racism means, along with all other forms of oppression in America. As a nation we need to come to terms with our past and present - we need to recognize it and accept - not just so we can move past oppression towards liberation, but at the very least so we strengthen our Achilles to the point where other super powers cannot exploit it. This process starts in schools.
We need to explicitly teach about whiteness, white supremacy and racism. Or we will continue to be a country divided, a country hurting its people, a country just waiting to be exploited.