In announcing Sept. 6 that it had found $100,000 in ad buys from “inauthentic” accounts “likely operated out of Russia” during the 2016 campaign, Facebook said that the “vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn’t specifically reference the US presidential election, voting or a particular candidate.”
It took the Daily Beast less than a month to find what it believes to be a Russia-linked account that did, in fact, explicitly promote then-GOP candidate Donald Trump.
The news website Tuesday surfaced the existence of a Facebook group called “Being Patriotic,” which the Daily Beast said bears many of the trademarks of other shady Facebook accounts that are believed to have had Russia ties. “Being Patriotic” went dark around the time Facebook deleted accounts linked to a Russian troll farm, according to the Daily Beast. The social media giant would not confirm to the Daily Beast the group’s Russian origins, but it did not challenge the Beast’s suggestions either.
“Being Patriotic” pushed at least four pro-Trump or anti-Hillary Clinton rallies, according to the Daily Beast, including a flash mob that was promoted to occur simultaneously in 17 different Florida locations. In at least a few cases, those events came to fruition, according to the Beast report, and resulted in known Trump activists showing up and promoting the events on their own social media pages.
Facebook’s disclosure of the inauthentic accounts appears to only be the tip of the iceberg of what sort of activity those accounts were involved in, per the Daily Beast:
After The Daily Beast found known Russian accounts that used Facebook’s Events tool to promote rallies inside the United States, the company said that it was not well positioned to determine “if something like coordination occurred” between the Trump campaign and Russia — something investigators and security researchers doubt because of the social network’s massive trove of information on its customers.
But the discovery of the “Being Patriotic” rallies suggests that the fraudulent activity on Facebook did indeed involve messaging on behalf of Trump, did prompt at least some Americans to rally on Trump’s behalf, and did result in the Trump campaign volunteers subsequently sharing material from those events.
Russia’s use of Facebook in its alleged campaign to interfere with the 2016 election has come under major scrutiny since the disclosure of the inauthentic accounts. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe has reportedly issued a search warrant to learn more about the activity on the site, and the Senate Intelligence Committee has said it would like Facebook to testify publicly about what happened — a hearing chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) would like to host as early as next month.
The Facebook page the Daily Beast identified Wednesday promoted flash mob events in Florida, a key swing state, in August 2016. Two of the planned locations — Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs — were sites of gatherings by Trump fans, according to photos and videos posted by Dolly Trevino Rump, the Trump campaign’s chairwoman for Broward County. Rump did not respond to the Daily Beast’s inquiries.
Other people who were listed as contacts on Being Patriotic’s events told the Daily Beast they remembered vaguely being contacted by the group to promote the rallies. Betty Triguera, listed as a coordinator on a Sarasota event page, said she heard about the event from Being Patriotic’s Twitter account — which has also been shut down, according to the Daily Beast. Jim Frische, whose name was attached to a Clearwater event page, remembered only vague details of being contacted about the event, and that it ended up being “a dozen or so people out on the street corner.”