This Week in Russiagate: Facebook and Black Lives Matter
The response to reports of Russian-linked Facebook ads reveals the disdain by elite pundits and lawmakers to dissenting voices like Black Lives Matter, says Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. Facebook is giving Congress the 3,000 ads it says were likely bought by Russian linked accounts to influence the 2016 election. At least one of the ads made reference to Black Lives Matter. The Russian goal, we are told, was to sell chaos.
DYLAN BYERS: The goal here was really about creating chaos, creating a climate of incivility, a climate of political discord and partisanship effectively to undermine the American democratic project generally to undermine America’s strength at home.
AARON MATÉ: Joining me now is Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report. Welcome, Glen. This angle of Russia-gate has dominated headlines over the past few weeks. Even the Congressional Black Caucus has weighed in on this, writing to Facebook to complain about the company allegedly letting this Russian linked advertisement air in what everyone says was an attempt to show racial division and chaos. Your thoughts on it?
GLEN FORD: Racial division and chaos, Lord save us. The Congressional Black Caucus is really showing in this so called Russia-gate affair that its main concern is the interest of the Democratic Party and it’s not concerned with freedom of speech or even with protection of Black rights in this country. We see that in the wording and the tone of a letter that was authored by Black Chicago Congresswoman Robin Kelly. She essentially is asking Facebook to limit or ban content on Facebook that is “politically divisive” or whatever that means. Kelly was reacting to those reports about the Russians and how they have allegedly spent $100,000, not a great deal of money by the way, over two years to buy space on Facebook for political messages.
The House and Senate intelligence committees are looking into that matter. According to the Washington Post, these alleged Russians bought ads on Facebook and some of the ads were supportive of black protests and groups like Black Lives Matter and some of the ads were opposed. Congresswoman Kelly claims that the ads represent some kind of Trojan horse that is designed to inflame and exploit political and economic riffs in the United States, as if the United States does not have and generate its own political and economic riffs and as if American citizens shouldn’t be engaged in the most exciting discussion of the root causes of those riffs. I want to make it really clear here because Kelly does, that she is not just going after Russians.
She demands that Facebook and these are her words implement reforms that ensure that malicious actors both foreign and domestic do not pervert Facebook to promote a divisive and destabilizing agenda, divisive and destabilizing. The meaning of those words is just unmistakable. Congresswoman Kelly wants Facebook to ban so called “divisive speech,” which is anything that the prevailing establishment doesn’t agree with. The fact is that Facebook is already censoring left wing sites, sites like those were smeared by the Washington Post, which includes Black Agenda Report. A number of those sites also say that their visitation from Google search is dramatically down. The latest among them is the only mildly leftist site, Alternet, which says that its visitation from Google searches is down 40% and lays that on Google, which brags that it has altered it has,,,
AARON MATÉ: Glenn, I take your point, but I want to keep the focus here on this Black Lives Matter angle because I think it’s really striking and reveals a lot about how Democrats as you’re discussing feel about movements like Black Lives Matter. Because the presumption underneath this accusation against Facebook and against the Russian linked accounts is that communities in Ferguson and Baltimore needed perhaps to be cajoled by a social media advertisement to go out in the streets and protest police brutality and racial injustice.
GLEN FORD: The whole purpose of protest is to destabilize an unjust system. You’re not working your protest show if you are making the system, which is unjust, more stable. The words that Kelly is using and that these other mostly Democrats are using are the same kinds of language that we saw those Southern segregationists using when the South came under assault from black protesters bemoaning the divisiveness that protest injects into society and such. This is a very, very reactionary campaign and there’s another aspect to this that’s quite related. Kelly does not want Facebook to sell advertising space, to sell space on its network that selects specific racial or other groups, which would mean, of course, that we at Black Agenda Report could not effectively go after an audience that wants to hear a publication that speaks to the Black left.
What about The Final Call, the publication of Black muslims in the United States. They would have no access to Facebook to find their most desired audience. This is anti-democratic, it’s anti freedom of speech. We wouldn’t have the right to the freedom to speak to our own audience.
AARON MATÉ: Right. The irony here is that when people, like lawmakers, talk about this latest development in Russia-gate with Facebook. They say that we have to take these steps to protect our democracy. In fact, on that note, I want to play you a clip from Mark Zuckerberg, who recorded a video last week addressing the country.
MARK ZUCKERBERG: We are actively working with the US Government on its ongoing investigations into Russian interference. We’ve been investigating this for many months now and for a while, we had found no evidence of fake accounts linked to Russia running ads. When we recently uncovered this activity, we provided that information to the special counsel.
AARON MATÉ: As I mentioned Glenn, today Facebook is handing over those 3,000 Russian linked ads to Congress and I just want to read you, Zuckerberg followed up that video with a post on Saturday, which was the day of Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday where we are supposed to atone for our sins. He wrote a post where he said, “For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask for forgiveness and will work to do better.” It reminded me of many a bar mitzvah speech that I had to witness when I was a kid along similar lines. Go ahead, Glenn.
GLEN FORD: Well, Zuckerberg has a great deal to atone for in terms of freedom of speech. As I was saying previously, Google as well as Facebook have bragged that they are changing their algorithms with the specific purpose in mind of weeding out or limiting the access to controversial websites. That’s why all these left websites are complaining that their visitation is down. The act has already been committed. Actually Kelly, the congresswoman from Chicago, is already getting what she is demanding.
AARON MATÉ: Right. Finally, Glen, seeing how this is a controversial now, seeing how Black Lives Matter is being discussed in the context of as being a potential tool of foreign influence, rather than as simply an organic movement against injustice, how should people respond?
GLEN FORD: Well, the Democratic Party tried embrace in their deadening tentacles Black Lives Matter, if you remember. I believe it was in 2015 with the Democratic National Committee endorsing Black Lives Matter like a protest group really wants endorsement from one half of the ruling duopoly. Fortunately, Black Lives Matter rejected that embrace. Clearly, yes, the Democrats would like to have a Black Lives Matter that only speaks out when that does not create a feeling of divisiveness and a will among lots of people to destabilize an unjust society.
AARON MATÉ: Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report, thanks very much.
GLEN FORD: Thank you.
AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.