In the run-up to the 2016 elections, the campaign team of American presidential candidate Donald Trump tried to discourage black Americans from voting. The British public service Channel 4 states this on the basis of a voter database of Trump’s digital campaign team. In that database, 3.5 million black voters said they needed to be discouraged.

Channel 4 acquired the voter database with data from nearly 200 million American voters, consisting of over 5,000 files with a total size of 5 terabyte. The voters of 16 decisive states were divided into eight categories through an algorithm, which could be accessed in different ways with ads on Facebook. One of these categories was called “deterrence”. Black voters were a disproportionately large part of that category.

Although Trump’s campaign team indicated before the 2016 elections that it was not targeting black voters, it seems to have been the case. Confidential documents from Cambridge Analytica, the controversial British company that helped the Trump campaign to influence voters through Facebook, show that the Trump campaign alone spent $ 55,000 in the state of Georgia to target black voters with advertisements that included The “Predator video”. That video, in which Trumps ‘Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton refers to black kids as “super predators”, was viewed millions of times on Facebook.

In the 2016 presidential election, for the first time in 20 years, fewer black voters voted than in the previous elections. “Swing states” as Wisconsin and Michigan went with a very small difference to Trump, who was elected president by the electors, despite Hillary Clinton getting more votes in total.

The United States has a long history of discouraging or preventing the voter suppression of, among others, black voters, called voter suppression. According to Jamal Watkins, vice president of the black civil rights movement NAACP, this is a modern variant of that phenomenon. According to him, the use of data to discourage voters rather than encourage or convince them is contrary to the notion of a democracy.

A Facebook spokesperson says that much has changed since 2016 and that the Cambridge Analytica scandal could no longer take place today. The spokesperson points out that “voter suppression” is banned 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 had no comment.

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