Russian-Controlled Facebook Accounts Organized Trump Events

Since we learned from Facebook how Russia used the social media site to influence the 2016 election, a group of reporters at The Daily Beast have been investigating how those same accounts were used to organize events. The initial article told this story:

Russian operatives hiding behind false identities used Facebook’s event-management tool to remotely organize and promote political protests in the U.S., including an August 2016 anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho, The Daily Beast has learned…

The Facebook events—one of which echoed Islamophobic conspiracy theories pushed by pro-Trump media outlets—are the first indication that the Kremlin’s attempts to shape America’s political discourse moved beyond fake news and led unwitting Americans into specific real-life action.

That was followed up by this one today:

Suspected Russia propagandists on Facebook tried to organize more than a dozen pro-Trump rallies in Florida during last year’s election, The Daily Beast has learned.

The demonstrations—at least one of which was promoted online by local pro-Trump activists— brought dozens of supporters together in real life. They appear to be the first case of Russian provocateurs successfully mobilizing Americans over Facebook in direct support of Donald Trump.

The fact that this most recent report identifies events that were advertised to provide direct support for Trump takes this story to a new level. As does this:

When asked for comment, the White House referred The Daily Beast to the Trump campaign, which, in turn, did not respond to emailed questions. But Susie Wiles, who served as Trump’s campaign manager in Florida, told The Daily Beast that the Broward County portion of the flash mob “was not an official campaign event.”

That’s despite the fact that the event was promoted on “Official Donald J. Trump for President Campaign Facebook Page for Broward County, Florida.” Photos and videos of the demonstration were posted there afterwards.

But there is something that is not mentioned in either article at The Daily Beast that might be worth investigating when it comes to possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.

In one of the first articles to document how a Facebook account was used by the Russians to tap in to the secessionist movement in Texas, Casey Michel noted that the “Heart of Texas” Facebook account was also involved in organizing events. Both he and the journalists at The Daily Beast mentioned that these events didn’t actually mobilize that many people. But here’s the kicker:

As it is, the rallies didn’t generate much participation — only a few dozen people showed up at scattered sites across the state, if memory serves correctly…

But the rally organization did do one thing. In gathering online support, the “Heart of Texas” page obtained identities of potential supporters of Texas secession — supporters whose information the folks at the “Heart of Texas” said they would pass along to the TNM [Texas Nationalist Movement].

What if the real purpose in organizing these events was to garner the identities of potential Trump supporters and pass them on to the campaign, to be added to a database for microtargeting? That would be a direct form of coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.