Why Congress Must Protect Black And Latino Americans From Russian Operatives’ Social Media Experiment In 2020

This piece was originally published on Blavity.

It’s a common sentiment among communities of color that U.S. lawmakers don’t always have their unique obstacles and systematic roadblocks top of mind. For this reason, many of these citizens have decided to disengage from the democratic process, in turn compounding the effects of ongoing disenfranchisement.

As public servants, we make a commitment to protect and fight for the rights of the constituents we serve. Issues of national security and foreign influence must be a part of those conversations, especially when vulnerable communities are under attack.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence recently found Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) coordinated disinformation tactics during the 2016 elections, with questions still lingering about their interference in 2018 midterms as well as the agency’s plans to cause similar political and social discourse in 2020.

In particular, U.S. officials found the IRA targeted Latinos and African Americans, often more aggressively than other U.S. groups, spreading misinformation to exert political influence and exacerbate social divisions in U.S. culture. Hackers strategically reached 126 million people on Facebook, at least 20 million users on Instagram, 1.4 million users on Twitter, and uploaded over 1,000 videos to YouTube.

The NAACP has since encouraged a boycott of Facebook as a protest of these events. Ignoring the larger pointed attack, however, would be a mistake and is a serious national security threat.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time underrepresented groups have been exploited for the purposes of experimenting. The U.S. Public Health Service took advantage of untreated Black sharecroppers, diagnosed with syphilis in Tuskegee in the early 1900s, in search for a treatment for the disease. Abroad, Nazis used prisoners of different ethnicities to test infectious diseases and chemical warfare. And American doctors famously selected slaves for experimental surgeries, often without anesthesiology, to advance their medical practices and studies.

Congress owes it to these groups to protect them from being targeted again in the 2020 election cycle — and to protect the special counsel investigation into Russia’s dealings on behalf of Trump and his yes men.

It is the unanimous, public judgement of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to benefit then-candidate Trump. Many people in the Trump orbit have lied about their conversations and contacts with Russians, often repeatedly and under oath. The special counsel’s investigation is meant to get to the bottom of these connections and lies, the IRA’s activities, and more — and to get that essential work done, Americans of every demographic need to know that the investigation is protected, by law, from political interference from the White House.

To make our elections and our nation safer moving forward, our lawmakers need to step up and pass bipartisan legislation to protect the special counsel’s investigation now. Doing so will show that they care about making sure that Americans of all kinds — but only Americans — get to choose our leaders at the ballot box.

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