Facebook announced last week that it shut down 32 pages on its platforms that were “involved with coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Some left-of-center groups whose events were linked to the illicit pages are upset that their reputations are being sullied.
The possible co-opting of authentic activism by foreign government opportunists is an interesting twist in an already complicated story. While Russia’s “meddling” in the 2016 election has been perceived as chiefly benefitting the victorious Donald Trump, investigators have established that the Kremlin exploited both conservative and liberal causes. The goal: not so much favoritism as general provocation and disruption.
These 32 newly discovered Facebook pages, which include names such as ‘Aztlan Warriors,’ ‘Black Elevation,’ ‘Mindful Being,’ and ‘Resisters,’ show that someone—Russia, most likely—is keen to sow even more confusion going into the 2018 elections.
Regarding the 32 total pages in question, Facebook did not directly link them to Russia, but lawmakers on Capitol Hill did. A spokesman for Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said Facebook had informed his office “that a limited group of Russian actors has attempted to spread disinformation using its platform and that the affected groups are affiliated with the political left.”
It’s not the first time that activists on the political left have been caught up in suspected Russian provocation. Earlier this year, the Miami Herald ran a front-page story describing how organizers of protests against the Sabal Trail Pipeline in Florida were being aided and abetted—presumably unwittingly—by Russian propagandists. Florida Congressional candidate Tim Canova, a protest leader, strongly defended the integrity of the movement; however, the article suggested Canova was being played by the Kremlin and had become a “useful idiot.” (Canova saw nothing extraordinary about having appeared on RT, the Kremlin-backed TV network, over 20 times.)
Anyone—right, left or centrist—can become an unwitting agent of a sophisticated intelligence operation, especially if they’re not paying attention. So we should all be careful about casting the first stone. But, at the same time, we must not shy away from calling out cases where well-meaning folks may actually be doing the bidding of a foreign adversary.
The underlying political viewpoints shouldn’t matter. What matters is that free expression, a core American value, is being manipulated by hostile foreign governments.