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Considered opinionRussia used Facebook events to organize anti-immigrant rallies on U.S. soil

By Ben Collins, Kevin Poulsen, and Spencer Ackerman

Published 14 September 2017

Shaping the minds of Americans by leaking hacked emails and pushing fake news was just one component of the Russian campaign to subvert American democracy and institutions. Russian government agents went a step further by trying to create behavior change. Hiding behind false identities, these Russian government operatives used Facebook’s event-management tool remotely to organize and promote political protests in the United States.

Russian government operatives hiding behind false identities used Facebook’s event-management tool remotely to organize and promote political protests in the United States. The goal was to foster dissention and discord and help Donald Trump win the November presidential election.

One of the events remotely organized by the Russian government agents was an August 2016 anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho.

Since the beginning of 2016, pro-Trump, far-right websites such as Breitbart, InfoWars, and WorldNetDaily had been spreading lies about immigrants supposedly taking over Twin Falls, Idaho, and the Russian government operatives used this steady stream of false stories as the context within which to organize an anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rally in the city..

The Daily Beast reports that:

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to the Daily Beast that the social-media giant “shut down several promoted events as part of the takedown we described last week.” The company declined to elaborate, except to confirm that the events were promoted with paid ads. (This is the first time the social-media giant has publicly acknowledged the existence of such events.)

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.

“This is the next step,” Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and expert on Russia’s influence campaign, told the Daily Beast. “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.”

Read the full article — Ben Collins, Kevin Poulsen, and Spencer Ackerman, “Exclusive: Russia used Facebook events to organize anti-immigrant rallies on U.S. soil” — in the Daily Beast (11 September 2017); also see Collins, Poulsen, and Ackerman, “Russia’s Facebook Fake News Could Have Reached 70 Million Americans,” Daily Beast (8 September 2017); and Collins and Ackerman, “Facebook Won’t Reveal if Russia Targeted You During the Election,” Daily Beast (13 September 2017)