Thousands rallied for a march that took place in the days after the presidential election for a New York City demonstration that appears to have been orchestrated by groups affiliated with Russia. Using social media platforms, groups linked to Russia were successful in influencing post-election politics. On Facebook, 16,000 users pledged to attend a protest against Trump on November 12, 2016 in New York City. The demonstration was organized by BlackMattersUS: a group linked to Russia that sought to exacerbate racial tensions. The event notice was shared with 61,000 users.

Following Donald Trump’s electoral victory, as many as 10,000 protesters went to Union Square in Manhattan and from thence to Trump Tower. Outrage among Democrats, progressives, and leftists was used to drum up support for the demonstration, which was the fourth such anti-Trump event following the November 8 election. “Join us in the streets! Stop Trump and his bigoted agenda!” reads the Facebook event page for the rally. “Divided is the reason we just fell. We must unite despite our differences to stop HATE from ruling the land.”

According to RBC -- a Russian magazine -- BlackMattersUS has been linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which in turn has links to the Russian government. Facebook, which has found that it was riddled with Russian influence. This week, Facebook admitted that 126 million American users may have seen content uploaded by Russia-based operatives over the past two years. Facebook said that approximately 80,000 posts were produced before and after the 2016 presidential election, mostly about divisive social and political issues. The news came in advance of an expected Senate hearing where Facebook, Twitter, and Google will have to answer questions.

Facebook said these posts were created by a company linked to the Kremlin, and were amplified through shares, comments, and likes to spread to millions more people.

"The foreign interference we saw is reprehensible and outrageous and opened a new battleground for our company, our industry and our society," said Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch in a statement that was released before his expected testimony on Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. "That foreign actors, hiding behind fake accounts, abused our platform and other internet services to try to sow division and discord — and to try to undermine our election process — is an assault on democracy, and it violates all of our values."

Lawyers from Facebook, Twitter, and Google are expected to testify on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"These actions run counter to Facebook's mission of building community and everything we stand for,"he wrote. "And we are determined to do everything we can to address this new threat."

Facebook has identified the Kremlin-connected Internet Research Agency as having purchased 3,000 political ads on Facebook’s platform and operating 470 accounts that appear to have attempted to influence Americans during the 2016 election process. Since then, Facebook has deleted those 470 accounts. BlackMatters's account has also been deleted, even though Facebook has not officially confirmed the reason for the deletion. Twitter also appears to have deleted an account associated with BlackMatters.

Since then, Facebook announced that it will introduce transparency features that will make users running election ads to verify their identities with the company. 

Besides the demonstration in New York City, BlackMatters organized other protests, but none revealed so far reached the level of support shown by the Nov. 12 protest did. Other events organized by the group appeared to focus on race, and the killing of black men by law enforcement officers. Some events focused on immigrants. On December 3, for example, there was an event planned to protest against the Electoral College. The “One Person One Vote One March” event description reads: “The Electoral College is an outdated, undemocratic system that does not reflect our modern society, and it needs to be changed immediately. Every American should be guaranteed that their vote counts!" It is not clear whether the event ever materialized.

According to BuzzFeed, some Americans unwittingly cooperated with BlackMatters, being unaware of its Kremlin links. “I thought it was a knockoff of Black Lives Matter,” an organizer told BuzzFeed.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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