One of the nation’s most prominent civil rights organizations is urging users to log out of Facebook and sister site, Instagram, to protest its role in spreading misinformation and disingenuous portrayals of the African American community.
The NAACP announced a week-long #LogOut protest today in response to weekend news reports that the Russian influence campaign during the 2016 election went to extraordinary lengths to target the black community, using a variety of ploys to suppress turnout among Democratic voters.
“Facebook’s engagement with partisan firms, its targeting of political opponents, the spread of misinformation and the utilization of Facebook for propaganda promoting disingenuous portrayals of the African American community is reprehensible,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement.
The organization said it has returned a recent donation from Facebook, and is calling on its partners, social media followers and supporters to abandon the social media site for a week, starting tomorrow. The NAACP said it hopes the campaign will help Facebook appreciate that the data and privacy of its users of color matter more than its corporate interests.
The New York Times and other national news outlets obtained a document called The Knowledge Report, one of two reports commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee understand how Russian operatives exploited social media outlets during the election. The trolls, working through the Internet Research Agency, spread propaganda widely — not just on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, but also on YouTube, Reddit and Tumblr.
The Russians targeted the black community by posing as African Americans, and recruiting black Americans. This group sought out this group, in particular, using Facebook ads that targeted users interested in certain topics, including black history and Malcolm X. Of the 80 Facebook pages crated by the IRA, 30 targeted African-American audiences, amassing some 1.2 million followers, the Times reported.
The voter suppression efforts zeroed in on African-Americans, as well as supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, urging them to sit out the presidential election or to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Black voter turnout declined in 2016 for the first time in two decades, the Times notes, adding that it’s difficult to determine whether the extent to which these misinformation efforts played a role.
Despite extensive reporting about the trolls and their work on Facebook, the Knowledge Report notes the Russians were incredibly effective on Instagram, where propagandists sparking 187 million engagements with their manipulative content.
In a statement outlining the reasons for its week-long boycott, the NAACP cited some well-known grievances, including data breaches and Facebook’s decision to hire an opposition research firm to attack its critics.
The NAACP also cited a lawsuit filed earlier this year by National Fair Housing Alliance, which accused Facebook of creating the tools that enabled landlords and real estate brokers to prevent certain users — children, women and others– from seeing ads for rentals or home sales. The social media giant also has been criticized for its lack of employee diversity, a point a former Facebook digital strategist made in a memo about Facebook’s “black problem” that he made public on (where else) Facebook.