Joy Reid's guest, Shireen Mitchell, answers questions about her report showing that online disinformation campaigns contributed to Kamala Harris' withdrawal from the race, and are still active and dangerous.
December 8, 2019

Senator Kamala Harris' withdrawal from the 2020 campaign this week was the result of more than one factor, obviously. Joy Reid and her guest, Digital Security expert Shireen Mitchell, discussed how online disinformation campaigns contributed, and are still in play. We need no reminding (or maybe we do...) about how social media shaped the disastrous results of 2016, but we do NOT have a handle on it 3+ years later. As Mitchell made clear, disinformation campaigns targeted Black voters in 2016, and they are targeting Black voters now. As soon as Senator Harris declared she was running for president, the disinformation campaigns were in full swing.

REID: That perception of Senator Kamala Harris as a "cop" who, as a prosecutor, locked up a lot of people who look like me, which the Daily Show's Roy Wood Jr. brought out in that clip was not a joke. That idea stuck to Senator Harris throughout the campaign, unlike other candidates who have less than stellar records on criminal justice reform. And it was reinforced perhaps most aggressively on social media. A new report examines how powerful these narratives can be in shaping people's political views. Joining me is Shireen Mitchell, founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women, which put together the report. Shireen, good morning.

MITCHELL: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

REID: Of course. The New York Times has an article that talks about — this is a past article. Russian 2016 influence operation targeted African-Americans on social media. That was from December, from last December, December of last year. Your report talks about the same thing, the specific targeting of African-Americans and so talk a little bit about what you found and what this report brings forward.

MITCHELL: There's two things. One is we also have this just a month or two ago where the Senate Intelligence Committee has finally put out their report, too, a year later, actually saying that there is no other group that was targeted more than African-Americans. And that is still happening now and it has not changed. The key parts of what our report is talking about that we're looking at a new age that's called "digital voter suppression." This is the way we're now looking at not only who we are in terms of being targeted as voters, but how that's being used throughout the election cycle. Kamala would be a great example of someone who started as early as January, when we started looking at her campaign and looking at her targeted attacks online, to now her being out of the race. And how even in the midst of that, the majority of people, real people, who believed that she was a cop. And there's like a campaign going on called "Cop-mala." She's out of the race and it's still talking about her as a cop, versus her job as a prosecutor or AG or what she did in the Senate. So these are key pieces about what we're looking at, but it's to make people understand that the disinformation and suppression is a continuum in our election process that we need to be paying more attention to because there are steps that are being taken and there are actions that are happening in this time we still haven't handled, yet.

Reid then asked Mitchell to expand upon one of her quotes from the report about a central tactic of these disinformation campaign: posing as Black people, using Black voices, to try to convince Black voters not to vote for Democrats. From her report: "This is why fake accounts pretending to be Black women matter. Not only in the disinformation campaign. There's been a consistent number of fake accounts posing as black women since 2013. These fake accounts seem to be real people with real concerns. They connect with the American Black community online, attempting to learn Black vernacular and key issue areas."

Since 2013, people. The Russians have been trying to sabotage Democrats online by using Black women as weapons since 2013. Reid asked Mitchell why, specifically, Black women were targeted and weaponized.

MITCHELL: Because if we know as we've seen that the ones who are the most valuable to the Democratic party is black women. We've seen this....The reason that we're supporting black women or the reason these accounts are pretending to be Black women is because we already know the data point says that over 90% of Black women will vote for Democrats. And so now we have a whole campaign, several campaigns, by the way, we have identified at least FIVE existing campaigns, that are focused on getting black people to do only one thing. NOT vote for the Democrats.

REID: Can you name one of those five campaigns?

MITCHELL: We put up from the report that there's a conversation about reparations that has to do with it. There's a criminal justice conversation. There's -- so reparations, immigration and -- sorry. Reparations, immigration and anything that has to do with the criminal justice system. So the reason that the targeting of Kamala around being a cop is important is because anything that hinges on criminal justice becomes a divisive issue. And is being used as a weapon right now. Are there real issues? Absolutely. I want to make sure people don't dismiss the fact there are some real issues we're talking about. You had Cory Booker on talking about police brutality. These are key important issues to our community. We know that this is the case because in the previous election, in 2016, Black Lives Matter was targeted because of their -- because of their campaign. That was focused on police brutality. It is still existing and happening right now. It's just we're not seeing a way to handle this and do a counter-narrative.

November 2020 is coming up fast. Senator Harris is out of the race. The December Democratic debate looks to be all white already. Has disinformation won the next election for Trump already? If he is not removed after whatever sham the Senate will try to pass off as an Impeachment trial, then working like hell to get the vote out for the eventual Democratic nominee is our best hope. That, and voting like Black women.

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