Facebook Ads Used Divisiveness to Swing Election

Putting out the fire with gasoline. That’s what the ‘anti-fa’ strategy does when the Left resorts to violent counter-attack against Fascism. As long as we amp up the conflict, aggression, violence, social division, racialized and gendered hatred, we are creating conditions for more Fascists to take power. That seems to be the lesson from recent investigations of the Russian’s use of Facebook ads crafted to inflame racial hatred and social division. Fascists take power by amplifying the extremes and disempowering moderate voices, driving them away from the political arena. Escalating social conflict causes voter suppression; it keeps moderate voters away from the polls and drives up the voter turnout of extremists: fascists, nazis, white supremacists, alt-right and the like.

A New York Times article says that Russian operatives supporting the Trump campaign bought Facebook ads that featured divisive social issues, and never mentioned ‘elections’, ‘Trump’ or ‘Clinton’. The ads targeted voters in key states and voting precincts to amplify conflict, used hot-button issues like gun control, gay rights and abortion, to increase racial and gender division and inflame voters.

“Providing new evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Facebook disclosed on Wednesday that it had identified more than $100,000 worth of divisive ads on hot-button issues purchased by a shadowy Russian company linked to the Kremlin.

Most of the 3,000 ads did not refer to particular candidates but instead focused on divisive social issues such as race, gay rights, gun control and immigration, according to a post on Facebook by Alex Stamos, the company’s chief security officer. The ads, which ran between June 2015 and May 2017, were linked to some 470 fake accounts and pages the company said it had shut down.

Facebook officials said the fake accounts were created by a Russian company called the Internet Research Agency, which is known for using “troll” accounts to post on social media and comment on news websites.”

As long as we keep throwing gasoline on the fire, the Fascists win. As Buddhists, we have to counter violent division with non-violent engagement, and counter extreme ‘black and white’ thinking with nuanced and respectful dialogue: the complex ‘grey’ of the middle way. We have to counter extremism with a politics of love, non-violence, respect and dialogue, healing hatred and division, with a goal of restoring peace and cooperative relations.

Trump is just the first Fascist to ascend to power in post-millennial US, and he’s not even the most powerful. In fact, Trump has proven to be quite weak and incompetent, ineffective even at advancing his own pet agenda. The next Fascist candidate could prove to be a competent and powerful dictator who actually knows how to run a government, which could be even more dangerous. How we confront the Fascists now could determine who wins the next election: moderates seeking conflict resolution and cooperative decision-making that benefits a population that is increasingly diverse in terms of race, gender and national origin; or winner-take-all Fascists who pursue a genocidal nationalist project policy of white nationalist ‘purity’.

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4 thoughts on “Facebook Ads Used Divisiveness to Swing Election

  1. Well said. I’ll just add one point, which is that the resistance to respectful dialogue is relentless. I note this internally every time I feel in myself an impulse to reply to a right-winger with what I see in the moment as rapier wit (but which is usually just facilely nasty) or to write something more straightforwardly angry and hostile.

    I’ve also seen it when I’ve tempered those impulses, written a comment which attempts to engage with the opposing side productively, and have found myself instantly attacked by ‘my side’ of a debate! I’ve tried a variety of approaches and have come to believe it’s by and large a structural issue, little affected by individual attempts to modulate via tone or approach.

    I suspect there is something intrinsic to the forms of communication afforded by the internet that exacerbates all this, or perhaps it’s just that the ‘net is where most of the action is. In either case, it’s hard to see what the answer to this might be. My personal measure has been to largely stop engaging on the ‘net at all. I abandoned Twitter some time ago, and now only rarely comment elsewhere. This is no solution of course.

  2. The alt-right is primed for violence and looking for it. Of course they will ignore reason and kindness, because what they want is a fight, and you’re not giving it to them. In that case the best response (or sometimes the only possible response) is respectful silence. I stay off Facebook because it’s become a tool of the of same forces that got Trump elected. There is little useful discussion of the issues; its mostly posturing and antagonism.

  3. While that’s true, I think the problem goes far, far beyond the alt-right (which is too cuddly a term IMO — I’d prefer fascist or far-right).

    Here’s an example: I’m in Australia, and we currently have a fairly silly marriage equality debate going on (silly because it’s entirely clear most of us have pro marriage equality for years: we’re just going through an expensive and damaging farce to placate the governing party’s far right).

    If anyone in the ‘yes’ camp tries to productively engage the more moderate of those leaning ‘no’, they get mercilessly jumped on by their ‘yes’ camp peers. The general notion is: the ‘noes’ are the enemy of all that is civilised, and must be spurned and mocked and (this is often explicit) hated until ‘we’ win.

    Now I’m very firmly in the ‘yes’ camp. But I think this level of polarisation, tribalism and hyper-identification is deeply destructive to our social fabric (or what’s left of it after the depredations of 3 decades of neoliberal economics).

    I don’t have a bee in my bonnet about this particular example – we will win and have marriage equality this year. But this kind of tribal warfare erupts over *everything* from serious issues like climate breakdown, to the most trivial outrageous (or not) statement by some corporate pop star.

    It’s hard to believe our societies can survive this instant triggering of hatred and division over everything. Maybe some hacktivists should just crash the internet altogether!

    1. I hope that doesn’t come across as some sort of comparison between the fascists and right-minded activists — not my intent at all! Fascism has violence at its heart. But the left (for want of a better term) doesn’t, and we need to find ways to enact this truth.

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