The campaign team of then-US presidential candidate Donald Trump tried to discourage black Americans from voting in the run-up to the 2016 election. This is what British public broadcaster Channel 4 claims based on a database of voters from Trump’s digital campaign team. That database indicates that 3.5 million black voters should be discouraged.
Channel 4 got its hands on the voter database containing nearly 200 million US voters, consisting of more than 5,000 files with a total size of 5 terabytes. The voters from 16 decisive states were divided into eight categories via an algorithm, which could be approached in different ways with advertisements on Facebook. One of those categories was entitled “deterrence.” Black voters were a disproportionate part of that category.
While Trump’s campaign team for the 2016 election indicated that it was not targeting black voters, it appears to have been the case. Confidential documents from Cambridge Analytica, the controversial British company that helped the Trump campaign influence voters through Facebook, show that the Trump campaign spent $ 55,000 in the state of Georgia alone to bombard black voters with ads saying the ‘ predator video ‘. That video, in which Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton refers to black youths as “super predators,” was viewed millions of times on Facebook.
Fewer black voters to the polls
The 2016 presidential election ultimately saw fewer black voters go to the polls for the first time in 20 years than in previous elections. Swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan went with a very small difference to Trump, who was therefore elected president by the electors, despite Hillary Clinton getting more votes in total.
The United States has a long history of discouraging or preventing black voters from taking the ballot box, known as ‘voter suppression’. Jamal Watkins, vice president of the black civil rights movement NAACP, says this is a modern variant of that phenomenon. According to him, using data to discourage voters rather than encourage or convince voters is contrary to ‘the notion of a democracy’.
A Facebook spokesperson said much has changed since 2016 and the Cambridge Analytica scandal could not happen today. The spokesperson points out that ‘voter suprpession’ is prohibited by facebook rules and that the platform has a campaign to inform voters.
President Trump’s campaign team, the Republican Party and the White House did not comment.
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