Russians used Facebook to support Trump rallies

The Daily Beast discovered ‘Being Patriotic,’ a Facebook group that proves Russian provocateurs explicitly mobilized Trump supporters during last year’s presidential campaign.

A Russian front group whose account was deleted by Facebook left behind evidence in the form of messages and images that were re-posted by social media users.

Facebook’s recent deletion of hundreds of Russian accounts hid much of the evidence but videos and photos from two locations in Florida were posted to a social media page run by the local Trump campaign chair, where they remain to this day.

Being Patriotic had 200,000 followers, making it one of the most popular of any of the suspected Russian Facebook election pages that have been identified so far.

The Being Patriotic Facebook page was closed in August 2017— when Facebook purged accounts secretly operated by a notorious St. Petersburg troll factory called Internet Research Agency. According to a public report by U.S. intelligence agencies (PDF), Internet Research Agency is financed by “a close Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence.”

That January 2017 intelligence report said, “Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls.’ Russia, like its Soviet predecessor, has a history of conducting covert influence campaigns focused on US presidential elections that have used intelligence officers and agents and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin.”

The Agency for Internet Studies, which hired people to write pro-Kremlin propaganda from a nondescript St Petersburg address, was sued for non-payment of wages by ex-employee Lyudmila Savchuk, a freelance journalist who had gone undercover as a pro-government internet troll to expose the outfit.

Facebook gave special counsel Robert Mueller and his team copies of ads and information related to a Russian troll farm, as well as details about the accounts that bought the ads, after they obtained a search warrant for the information.

Mueller is now in possession of Russian-linked ads that ran on Facebook, information about the way those ads were targeted at American social media users and how the ads may have influenced voter sentiment during the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are launching new efforts to prevent Russians and other foreigners from using social media to interfere in future American elections.

House and Senate Democrats sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission asking the agency to prevent foreigners from using online advertising platforms like Facebook and Twitter to influence voters.

“We encourage the Federal Election Commission to take immediate steps to understand the threats posed to our democratic process by foreign influenced internet and social media advertisement, and to promulgate new guidance on how advertisement platforms can better prevent foreign nationals from illicitly spending in future U.S. elections,” the letter states.

The efforts come two weeks after Facebook informed Congress that it had sold more than 3,000 ads to accounts linked to a Russian troll farm between June 2015 and May 2017.

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