According to a comprehensive report from the New York Times' Ellen Berry, an army of Russian internet trolls were deployed by the Kremlin in 2017 to sow discord among the leaders and attendees of the massive Women's March in Washington D.C. and other cities across the country.
The march gained massive coverage as feminists pushed back at the election of Donald Trump.
As Berry wrote, as more than 4 million people took part in the combination protest and march, "More than 4,000 miles away, organizations linked to the Russian government had assigned teams to the Women’s March. At desks in bland offices in St. Petersburg, using models derived from advertising and public relations, copywriters were testing out social media messages critical of the Women’s March movement, adopting the personas of fictional Americans."
The report notes that the trolls tried out messaging aimed at turning Black women against white women, posing as conservative women complaining they were being shut out, as well as men mocking the participants.
However, as the report notes, the Russians felt that they had their target when they singled out Muslim activist Linda Sarsour who was one of the march organizers.
According to the report, Sarsour discovered after the march that she had been targeted.
"What she saw on Twitter that Monday was a torrent of focused grievance that targeted her. In 15 years as an activist, largely advocating for the rights of Muslims, she had faced pushback, but this was of a different magnitude. A question began to form in her mind: Do they really hate me that much?"
As the report notes, it was all a fraud being perpetuated by the Russians -- and they weren't done.
"Over the 18 months that followed, Russia’s troll factories and its military intelligence service put a sustained effort into discrediting the movement by circulating damning, often fabricated narratives around Ms. Sarsour, whose activism made her a lightning rod for Mr. Trump’s base and also for some of his most ardent opposition," the report states. "One hundred and fifty-two different Russian accounts produced material about her. Public archives of Twitter accounts known to be Russian contain 2,642 tweets about Ms. Sarsour, many of which found large audiences, according to an analysis by Advance Democracy Inc., a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts public-interest research and investigations."
As Barry wrote, the attempt to undermine the Women's March was yet another ploy by the Russians to create disruption and chaos in the U.S.
"Feminism was an obvious target, because it was viewed as a 'Western agenda,' and hostile to the traditional values that Russia represented, said Artyom Baranov, who spoke about his work in hopes of warning the public to be more skeptical of material online. Already, for months, Russian accounts purporting to belong to Black women had been drilling down on racial rifts within American feminism," the report states before adding, "The job was not to put forward arguments, but to prompt a visceral, emotional reaction, ideally one of “indignation.”
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