Report: Russian-Linked Facebook Accounts Staged Protests on Both Sides of Polarizing Issues

Protest Jeff WheelerStar Tribune via AP
Jeff Wheele/Star Tribune via AP
ADAM SHAW

Russian-backed Facebook accounts reportedly worked with U.S. activists to stage protests on both sides of fiery, controversial issues within the U.S. — suggesting Russia’s 2016 goal was division rather than a Trump victory.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Russian accounts jumped on incidents such as the fatal shooting in Dallas of five police officers and the deadly shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota in July 2016 to stoke division and anger in the U.S.

According to the Journal, a Russian-based firm organized a “Blue Lives Matter” rally in Dallas days after hundreds of people gathered in Minneapolis to mourn Castile:

The events show that the Russian-linked account activity went far beyond paying for polarizing ads dropped into Facebook members’ news feeds. At least 60 rallies, protests and marches were publicized or financed by eight Russia-backed Facebook accounts from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., according to a review by The Wall Street Journal, which looked at archived versions of now-deleted Facebook posts and interviewed activists, attendees and others familiar with the events, most of which were posted on Facebook.

In the wake of the failure by Democrats and left-wing media outlets to prove broad claims about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, more attention has been paid to the role of social media use by the Russians in shaping opinions.

Facebook said this month that 10 million people in the U.S. saw politically divisive ads purchased in Russia before and after the election, while in September it announced that 470 accounts had pushed social divisions via ads.

The controversies have put Facebook under particular scrutiny, leading COO Sheryl Sandberg to meet with lawmakers this month on both sides of the aisle.

But the Wall Street Journal report suggests the Russians did not limit their mischief to online ads, instead focusing on real-life protests. The Journal notes that while the rallies were often sparsely attended, they attracted significant news coverage and possibly stoked the flames of already fiery debates.

Events were not just limited to arguments over the use of force by police, but included other events, including a push for Texas secession in Houston and an LGBT United vigil in the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack.

Yet while the report shows evidence of Russian interference, it is far from clear that it proved intent by the Russians to secure the victory of President Trump, with many of the protests being explicitly or implicitly anti-Trump. The Journal noted that while a page called “Born Patriotic” planned 17 pro-Trump rallies on one August Day, a “Black Matters” group hosted anti-Trump rallies after the election.

Adam Shaw is a Breitbart News politics reporter based in New York. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY

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