Facebook Troll Account Events Happen in Wake of Guccifer 2.0 Released Targeting Data

In this post, I noted that the Russian troll Facebook events identified to date — including an event that drew four people in Idaho — weren’t exactly a smoking gun showing the troll accounts had intervened meaningfully in the election.

The Daily Beast has found an account — which it assumes must be tied to Internet Research Agency because it was shut down the same time as the other IRA accounts were, which seems a fair assumption — that does appear to be more legitimately tied to the election.

The demonstrations—at least one of which was promoted online by local pro-Trump activists— brought dozens of supporters together in real life. They appear to be the first case of Russian provocateurs successfully mobilizing Americans over Facebook in direct support of Donald Trump.

The Aug. 20, 2016, events were collectively called “Florida Goes Trump!” and they were billed as a “patriotic state-wide flash mob,” unfolding simultaneously in 17 different cities and towns in the battleground state. It’s difficult to determine how many of those locations actually witnessed any turnout, in part because Facebook’s recent deletion of hundreds of Russian accounts hid much of the evidence. But videos and photos from two of the locations—Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs—were reposted to a Facebook page run by the local Trump campaign chair, where they remain to this day.

“On August 20, we want to gather patriots on the streets of Floridian towns and cities and march to unite America and support Donald Trump!” read the Facebook event page for the demonstrations. “Our flash mob will occur in several places at the same time; more details about locations will be added later. Go Donald!”

The Florida flash mob was one of at least four pro-Trump or anti-Hillary Clinton demonstrations conceived and organized over a Facebook page called “Being Patriotic,” and a related Twitter account called “march_for_trump.”  (The Daily Beast identified the accounts in a software-assisted review of politically themed social-media profiles.)

Being Patriotic had 200,000 followers and the strongest activist bent of any of the suspected Russian Facebook election pages that have so far emerged.

Unlike the previously reported events, the Florida ones took place in a swing state. And the numbers represent more significant turnout than other reported events.

I’m also interested that these events happened in FL — and happened in late August — for another reason. Florida was the first of the swing states for which Guccifer 2.0 publicly released DCCC data, including targeting information. He released that information via his website on August 15, admittedly too close to the rallies to do much good, but early enough to know they were available before the rallies. But by that point, HelloFLA already had (and had released) documents.

As I have said, we don’t have to prove that Republicans helped the IRA target ads, because we already know that Russians obtained targeting information by stealing it from the Democrats. It just so happens that this first instance where Facebook events might affect the Presidential came in the wake of targeting information for key congressional districts became publicly available (and therefore deniable for entities more closely with with Russia).

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

8 replies
  1. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Was Trump at Mar-a-Lago about that time?

    Also, I recommend spelling out Internet Research Agency instead of IRA, so as to be clear to future readers that it is not a ref to Irish Republican Army.

  2. orionATL says:

    daily beast says facebook deleted the ads making them difficult? impossible? to review.

    wonder if facebook kept copies of the material they deleted? if not, how could they do any calculations for prevalence of material (like the ad calculations they released?

    you might expect that facebook would be both alert to and sensitive to russian material, as apparently they were by aug 17.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      wonder if facebook kept copies of the material they deleted? if not, how could they do any calculations for prevalence of material (like the ad calculations they released?

      They might have deleted the content, but you’re fundamentally right: an ad platform surely needs to log and retain data tied to transactions. (unless it doesn’t and Facebook’s entire ad model is based on bullshit, which would be something.) Custom Audiences, targeting criteria, metrics.

  3. orionATL says:

    i have long been interested in this meeting:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/19/business/for-facebook-and-conservatives-a-collegial-meeting-in-silicon-valley.html

    my interest is that i think conservatives pulled a brooks brothers riot on facebook and suckerberg, in short, an act of intimidation.

    i suspect this was a coordinated, calculated republican pressure move involving numerous of its verbal henchmen. this little get together in may 2016 might have set the stage/cleared the way for russian computer manipulation of american voters after.

    never forget, no matter what you think of the dem party, that republican organizations at state and federal level are the well-trained, well-armed, and well-financed roman legions. dems are the good-old-boy, leather-clad, farm a little, fight a little gauls. tu brutal tu watch.

  4. thefinderouter says:

    What if we can only identify the strangely targeted ads because they were outliers?

    If there were ads and bots working in markets where you would expect there to be large Trump rallies or anti-Clinton rallies, how would you distinguish them from the noise (separate from who paid the bill)?

    What metadata would you have to look back retrospectively if you were facebook? Name of group who bought ad and a short descriptor of what it said? None of that would be remarkable looking backwards in a market where it was common and expected.

  5. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Facebook to release to Congress Russian-purchased ads linked to 2016 election

    http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/21/facebook-to-release-russian-purchased-ads-linked-to-2016-election-242982

    “After an extensive legal and policy review, today we are announcing that we will also share these ads with congressional investigators,” Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch said in a statement. “We believe it is vitally important that government authorities have the information they need to deliver to the public a full assessment of what happened in the 2016 election.”

    [A corporation exercising their 1st Ammendment Right. Whoda thunk? /s]

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