Can We Stop Blaming Russian Bots for White People’s Racism, Please?!

President Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters after arriving at Pittsburgh International Airport on Jan. 18, 2018. (Evan Vucci/AP Images)
President Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters after arriving at Pittsburgh International Airport on Jan. 18, 2018. (Evan Vucci/AP Images)

Special prosecutor Robert Mueller on Friday dropped a 37-page indictment charging 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities with election fraud. The entire indictment focused on how the charged parties used social media to organize pro-Donald Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton rallies and took on fake social media profiles, especially on Twitter and Facebook.


Much of this was designed to spark racial strife between white people and minority groups in an attempt to disrupt the 2016 presidential election and benefit Trump. The black guys on YouTube dissing Hillary Clinton and the notorious GOP Tennessee Twitter account, among many more of their kind, have been well-covered. Still, there is no evidence that any of these efforts swayed people to vote one way or the other.

BuzzFeed asked experts if they believed that Russia’s disinformation campaign was responsible for decreased black turnout in 2016, and none of them could say that was the case. Chryl Laird, a government professor at Bowdoin College in Maine, said that turnout was lower in 2016 than in 2012 because black voters simply weren’t as excited about Clinton as they had been about Barack Obama. Instead, 2016 turnout should be compared with that of 2004, when it was more than 60 percent. “Obama would be considered a statistical outlier,” Laird told BuzzFeed.

I really don’t see how Twitter bots discouraged black folks, least of all black women, from casting a ballot. Black voter turnout in presidential years has been on the uptick since the the mid-1990s. Of course, Obama was a once-in-a-lifetime president, and therefore, the black turnout would reflect that. In 2012, 66.6 percent of eligible black voters cast ballots, according to the Pew Research Center. That number dipped to 59.6 percent in 2016. That’s just slightly below the 61.4 percent for overall voters that year.

Every available study finds that black men and women overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton. Not sure Russian trolls had much impact. Now, voter suppression is another story. Then there is also this thing about older black folks having to risk their lives to vote and passing that tradition down to their children. If Jim Crow could not stop black folk from voting, I doubt that a Twitter troll would have more impact.

And I also doubt that Twitter bots made Trump supporters more racist. I am sure the Republicans who believed that Obama was a Muslim back in 2015 didn’t need a bot to fuel their hate even more in 2016.

That said, I’m suspicious of any article that argues Russian bots discouraged black voter turnout or encouraged white folks to be even more racist than they already are. Trump won because many white Americans wanted to maintain white supremacy.


Thank all of the Beckys—aka the 53 percenters—for that, not some unknown Twitter bot in Moscow.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.