Earlier this year, the University of Washington research showed Russian trolls had infiltrated Black Lives Matter (BLM) movements all over the country — highlighting a deliberate strategy to heighten racial tensions.
According to a CNN investigation released last week, it turns out those bots had also posed as BLM Minneapolis after the police shooting of Philando Castile in July 2016.
The Minneapolis organization relied heavily on social media after Castile’s death to alert concerned citizens about protest marches and vigils. But their efforts were thwarted by Russian bots posing as the group to disseminate incorrect information.
Just hours after St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez gunned down Castile during a routine traffic stop, thousands of fake websites began popping up. While all of them claimed to be affiliated with Black Lives Matter, they were all registered to a company in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Experts say Russian trolls used a million dollar budget and technical expertise to confuse messaging.
“What Russia is attempting to do is use social media to create more distrust. They are using race and American politics as a way to manipulate our own troubles.”
Prior to a sanctioned Black Lives Matter political rally at the State Capitol, Russian trolls took to social media to divert potential ralliers to the 4th Police Precinct. However, Black Lives Matter had not organized anything at the police department.
Mica Grimm, an activist with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, explained that anything the organization does is heavily planned and strategized down to the day and location and the false messaging to send protesters to the precinct without her group’s knowledge was a big problem.
“It came at a time that we didn’t need to plan that kind of action,” said Grimm. “We were purposely making sure people had energy to come out and do other protests. At that moment we were trying to put pressure on the political scene. When we saw this was happening, we were really confused.”
While it’s impossible to stop the Russian bots from disseminating misinformation, Grimm said there are signs you can look for.
“When you looked at those web pages, it didn’t add up,” said Grimm. “Their language wasn’t language that we would normally use. There were phrases that were slightly off.”
Grimm said, thankfully, other community groups were familiar enough with the message of Black Lives to see something wasn’t right. “We are lucky in Minnesota to have so many connections and so many allies, that when something pops up like this we are able to communicate and talk to each other.”
Grimm also noted that the trolls’ tactics were part of a larger effort to disseminate fake news.
“I would say there are a lot of outside organizations that are affecting more than just us,” she said. “What Russia is attempting to do is use social media to create more distrust. They are using race and American politics as a way to manipulate our own troubles.”
At the end of the day, Grimm said the mission of Black Lives Matter is crystal clear.
“We want our humanity recognized. We want to go about our lives from day to day just like everyone else does. We want to live in a world where the majority of the population feels safe with uniformed police officers in the community.
“It’s time that we really come together and see the humanity for everyone,” continued Grimm. “We’re in a fight for our lives.”