Russia didn’t only influence the election with fake news (and by purchasing fake political ads on Facebook), it actually inspired people to take real-life action by attending anti-immigrant rallies. Russian operatives spent over $100,000 on Facebook events and ads to organize actual in-person gatherings that promoted anti-Muslim and xenophobic views. The Facebook content in question — which aligned with narratives pushed by Breitbart news, InfoWars, and similar news outlets about an “Islamic surge” in Twin Falls, Idaho — reached millions of people.
Although only a handful of people seem to have actually shown up at the event, that’s just part of the point, per the Daily Beast. The goal of the campaign seemed to be less a part of any one anti-immigration agenda and more a test of Russia’s ability to manipulate social media users. It’s one thing to sway opinions about, say, a political candidate, and quite another to inspire definitive action, said former FBI agent Clint Watts to the Beast:
“This is the next step. The objective of influence is to create behavior change. The simplest behavior is to have someone disseminate propaganda that Russia created and seeded. The second part of behavior influence is when you can get people to physically do something.”
The events were created by an account called SecuredBorders, run not by Americans concerned by an influx of immigrant hires in Idaho but by Russians who, essentially, work as professional trolls. Through 3,000 ads and 133,000 followers, SecuredBorders was able to amplify certain news stories and viewpoints and shift the conversation around immigration. Facebook has since shut down the SecuredBorders page, but that’s also not the only outlet used by Russians to manipulate the citizens of other countries. Indeed, Russian operatives have run similar campaigns in Europe ahead of elections, with 30,000 fake accounts created for the French presidential race alone. The entire point is to sow discord, confusion, and misinformation, changing the perception of facts and a distrust of legitimate news sources.
Facebook has acknowledged in the past that the platform has had a problem with fake accounts and fake news, but it stopped short of naming Russia as one of the primary players behind such accounts. Now, it’s officially come out to admit that fake events are part of the problem, too, and name who is behind them. “Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia,” wrote Facebook CSO Alex Stamos in an official announcement.
(Via The Daily Beast)