We and many others reported the release of a bundle of Russian-intelligence backed ad campaigns that ran on Facebook last year. I wanted to zoom in one of them. It’s simply an extraordinary example of the complexity and not online but in the real world impact of what was happening last year.
Here’s a key passage from a write up in The Texas Tribune …
Heart of Texas, a Russian-controlled Facebook group that promoted Texas secession, leaned into an image of the state as a land of guns and barbecue and amassed hundreds of thousands of followers. One of their ads on Facebook announced a noon rally on May 21, 2016 to “Stop Islamification of Texas.”
A separate Russian-sponsored group, United Muslims of America, advertised a “Save Islamic Knowledge” rally for the same place and time.
On that day, protesters organized by the two groups showed up on Travis Street in downtown Houston, a scene that appeared on its face to be a protest and a counterprotest. Interactions between the two groups eventually escalated into confrontation and verbal attacks.
This is simply extraordinary. What I’ve learned separately is that this wasn’t some unknown thing. The scuffling and the two events were written up in most or all of the local papers. I think – though I can’t be sure – that I remember hearing about it at the time. It’s possible that’s a false or inexact memory since there have been a number of things like this in recent years, especially in Texas. But it wasn’t a tree falling unheard in a forest. It became part of the news narrative in Houston. It was only in September when we learned Russian intelligence operatives put on a protest in a small town in Idaho. It was basically a failure and little happened. This was much bigger. Here’s our Tierney Sneed’s look at the same event.
My own take is that we’re only scratching the surface even now.