BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Much of the world saw the upheaval in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, and that includes Russia.
Russian agents reportedly used the turmoil in Baltimore’s streets to pit Americans against each other.
Russians paid Facebook to place ads during the presidential campaign on hot button issues, like immigration, guns and black political activism.
“They sort of hit us where it hurts, so to speak,” said Ben Yelin, policy analyst with the University of Maryland’s Center for Health and Homeland Security.
It wasn’t until after the Baltimore riots following the death of Freddie Gray, that Russia began rolling out it’s campaign of disinformation.
A congressional committee released the ad, highlighting the police related deaths of Gray, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
The ads were aimed at Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, and Missouri, and were seen 200,000 times in 2015.
They were run again in 2016, collecting nearly 56,000 clicks.
“I think it was part of the broader effort to sew discord,” Yelin said. “I think they found what our society sore spots are, what would cause the most tension, polarize people the most.”
Russians also worked both sides of the national anthem controversy, urging fans to boycott the NFL or take a knee in support.
This isn’t the first time Russian agents have used race to divide Americans.
“We know the KGB in the 1960s had tried to spread some false rumors about Martin Luther King Jr., to say he was coordinating with the federal government,” Yelin said.
But now the rumors and propaganda have the megaphone of social media.
U.S. intelligence agencies say the likely financier of the ads is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.