Russians Used Facebook to Organize Anti-immigrant Rallies in U.S. During Election

Daily Beast report says Russia didn't just stop at spreading 'fake news' also using fake Facebook accounts to organize events on U.S. soil during election

An attendee, wearing a Donald Trump mask, holds up a campaign sign at a campaign rally for Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. Trump and his aides insist his supporters' enthusiasm will give him an edge in Tuesday's national election. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg
Ty Wright/Bloomberg

Russian operatives used fake Facebook profiles to organize anti-immigrant events in the U.S., including one specific Idaho rally in August of 2016, according to a report from the Daily Beast.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that the company had "shut down several promoted events" following last week's announcement from Facebook that operatives in Russia spent $100,000 on ads to influence opinions in the United States.

"The objective of [Russia's] 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," a former FBI agent and specialist on Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. election, Clint Watts, told the Daily Beast.

Facebook events of this kind, which the Beast described as trumpeting the Islamophobic conspiracy theories often reinforced by media outlets that supported U.S. President Donald Trump, crossed the threshold from spreading fake news into mobilizing people during the election campaign.

One example noted in the report is an event titled "Citizens before refugees" planned for Twin Falls, Idaho, a town that far-right news sites like Breitbart and  InfoWars had repeatedly claimed was suffering from a massive influx of immigrants. According to the Daily Beast, the event was “hosted” by “SecuredBorders,” a Russian-run group with over 133,000 "followers" that was recently shut down by Facebook for masquerading as a "U.S. anti-immigration community," the Beast reported.

Last week, the social media giant said on Wednesday it had found that an operation likely based in Russia spent $100,000 on thousands of U.S. ads promoting divisive social and political messages in a two-year-period through May.

Facebook, the dominant social media network, said 3,000 ads and 470 “inauthentic” accounts and pages spread polarizing views on topics including immigration, race and gay rights. Another $50,000 was spent on 2,200 “potentially politically related” ads, likely by Russians, Facebook said.

Facebook briefed members of both the Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees on Wednesday about the suspected Russia advertising, according to a congressional source familiar with the matter. Both committees are conducting probes into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, including potential collusion between the campaign of President Donald Trump and Moscow.

Facebook said it found no link between the Russian-purchased advertising and any specific presidential campaign.

Reuters contributed to this report