'Hold Up!' Turns out Beyoncé was used as pawn in Russian Facebook ad propaganda

Suzy Byrne
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
Among the Facebook ads created by Russian hackers to heighten tensions in the U.S. around the 2016 presidental election were some related to Beyoncé. (Photo: Quinn Lemmers/Yahoo Entertainment)

The Facebook ads used by Russian hackers have been released — and it turns out Beyoncé was a pawn in the political game.

On Thursday, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released approximately 3,500 Russian ads used to heighten tensions among Americans during and after the 2016 presidential election. According to the Washington Post, the ads — which reached about 146 million users on Mark Zuckerberg‘s social network — ranged in topics, including those people feel especially passionate about like gun control, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, and immigration, and often they took opposing sides on the same issue to stir the pot. Targeting tools were used to reach certain people with each ad — like Fox News watchers or black or gay Facebook users.

Not all the ads were related to U.S. politics though. There were also “Anti-Beyoncé Protest Rally” and “Pro-Beyoncé Protest Rally” ads to drive people to attend a protest outside the NFL headquarters in New York on Feb. 16, 2016 — just days after the Lemonade singer delivered a politically charged performance during Coldplay’s Super Bowl halftime show.

The committee released the targeting data on the ads, which cost $40 each, and the Anti-Beyoncé ones were served to police officers, members of the military, and 911 dispatchers, according to Slate. Only eight people viewed it, and none of them clicked on it. The Pro-Beyoncé ad popped up for users whose interests included Hispanic TV programs or people “whose activity on Facebook aligns with African-American multicultural identity.” This did better, receiving 26,514 impressions, but still had no clicks.

The rally turned into a real thing. After a listing for it appeared on Eventbrite, created by a group called “Proud of the Blues,” the New York Daily News reported it was in the works. However, as the Atlantic wrote after, it was a huge dud: “The media showed up; Beyoncé fans showed up; actual protestors, for the most part, did not show up.” The New York Post was even more direct than that, saying “Anti-Beyoncé rally is the worst-attended protest ever.” The story said that the so-called protest “turned into a lovefest for the diva — when only a few people with soggy signs showed up. … It erupted into a concert-style scene full of fans cheering for the ‘Single Ladies’ singer. Dozens of Beyoncé boosters waved signs in support of her halftime show and the Black Lives Matter campaign.”

Sorry, Russia! The anti-Beyoncé rally outside the NFL headquarters in New York City on Feb. 16, 2016, was really a show of support for the singer and the Black Lives Matter movement. (Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
Another attendee of the so-called anti-Beyoncé rally. (Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Some of the other ads released by the House Intelligence Committee included a “Black Matters” page criticizing police brutality … as well as an “American Made” page urging people to support the police. There was a “Brown Power” ad featuring artwork showing a clenched fist surrounded by Mexican flags.
There was also a “South United” ad, using the Confederate flag to promote nationalism.

Hackers are known to use celebrities as clickbait. Every year, there’s a new list of the most “dangerous” celebrities to search for online because their names are used to get people to click on websites carrying viruses or malware. Last year, Avril Lavigne topped cybersecurity firm McAfee’s list — and Beyoncé appeared too at the No. 10 spot.

This isn’t the first time Bey has found herself connected to Russian hackers. In 2013, financial information belonging to the singer and her husband, Jay-Z, was posted on a Russian website. They weren’t the only victims that time. Donald Trump had some of his information stolen as well — though clearly not his tax returns because nobody has seen those yet.

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