Future Tense

Did Russian Trolls Organize Anti-Beyoncé Rallies In 2016?

It’s complicated.

Protestors at the Anti-Anti Beyonce Protest Rally in front of NFL Headquarters on February 16, 2016 in New York City.
Protestors at the Anti-Anti Beyonce Protest Rally in front of NFL Headquarters on February 16, 2016 in New York City. Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Democrats on the House Intel Committee released 3,519 Facebook and Instagram ads that the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency purchased from 2015 to 2017.

A bulk of the ads have to do with the 2016 presidential election, along with divisive political issues like LGBTQ rights, immigration, and guns. We’ve already known from previous ad disclosures that Russian actors saw these debate as ripe for further provocation.

This new set of ads reveals that they even sought to incite an in-person face-off between Beyoncé’s fans and critics nine days after her performance at the 2016 Super Bowl. As the Washington Post points out, it appears that the IRA bought Instagram ads advertising an “Anti-Beyoncé Protest Rally” and a “Pro-Beyoncé Protest Rally,” which were both scheduled to be held outside the NFL’s headquarters in New York from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Feb. 16.

According to the targeting data released by the committee, the Anti-Beyoncé ad was targeted at police officers, members of the military, and 911 dispatchers. The ad only received eight impressions and no clicks. The Pro-Beyoncé ad, on the other hand, was targeted at users who displayed an interest in Hispanic TV and people “whose activity on Facebook aligns with African American multicultural identity.” This ad performed slightly better, receiving 26,514 impressions, but still had no clicks. Each ad was worth around 2,500 rubles, which is approximately $40.

That would be the end of it, but a small group of people did in fact attend Beyoncé-related rallies outside NFL Headquarters on February 16. According to the Guardian, only three people showed up to oppose the pop star, while around 30 showed up in support.

The anti-Beyoncé rally first gained publicity when the New York Daily News found an announcement for it on Eventbrite from an organization called “Proud of the Blues.” The Instagram ad and the Eventbrite listing both give the same address for the protest and indicate that it would run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The Daily Beast ran a story back in 2016 questioning whether Proud of the Blues is an actual organization, since there was “no working email address, credit card information, or other real-life identifiers” associated with its web address, which had a domain assigned to the Central African Republic . Proud of the Blues didn’t even have a Facebook page or Twitter account until two days after the event, and didn’t respond to any reporter inquiries. The group subsequently posted a listing for an “Anti-Refugees Protest Rally” on the other side of the country in Los Angeles.

There was also an Eventbrite listing for a pro-Beyoncé rally that had the same time and address. The anti-Beyoncé event page actually features a link to the pro-Beyoncé one.

It’s still unclear how the Facebook ads are connected to the Eventbrite listing—if, for example, the organizers of the Eventbrite pages are affiliated with the Internet Research Agency and they were part of one plan. It could also be that the ads were merely inspired by the Eventbrite page, or vice versa. Either way, today’s disclosures still speak to how meticulously Russian actors monitored U.S. politics and culture to the point that they apparently saw an opportunity to sow discord from a Super Bowl performance.