Just as Presidents Day weekend kicked off, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted the Russian organization Internet Research Agency and 13 Russian nationals for interfering in the 2016 presidential election. The fact that Russia meddled in one of our most treasured democratic processes isn’t a revelation—it’s been well-known and confirmed that Russia waged information warfare on the American public to influence our voting behavior.
But the new indictment gave new detail about how Russia brought online an old tactic it has long depended upon: good ol’ fashioned racism. Russia used the U.S. history of racial oppression and its persistent challenges with systemic racism to manipulate (or at least attempt to manipulate) Americans’ electoral choices. And this wasn’t a simple add-on tactic to a larger influence operation. Rather, it’s in keeping with several decades of Russian efforts to use the United States’ treatment of its black citizens as a counterpoint to the American narrative of freedom and equality. The major difference today is that social media marketing allows Russia to do with efficiency and scale what it could never do with Cold War–era print and radio propaganda.
In other words, fanning the flames of America’s racial tensions is as Russian as vodka and blini.
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