News Brief

Texas Independence Campaign Was Russian Fake

A Facebook campaign for Texas to secede from the United States which attracted hundreds of thousands of followers in the run-up to last year’s American presidential election was actually a fake created by a Kremlin-linked “troll factory,” according to a report in the Washington Post.

Employed by the now infamous Internet Research Agency (IRA), the trolls also used social media platforms to fuel wider north-south divisions and racial tensions in the U.S. during the election campaign, according to another report by the Russian media group RBC.

At least 90 trolls employed on a specialist “U.S. desk” created a host of fake Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts aimed at Americans and covering a wide range of contentious issues, ranging from gun-control to LGBTQ rights. Working from the IRA’s St. Petersburg offices, they may have reached up to 30 million people a week, the RBC report says.

The “Heart of Texas” page on Facebook, calling for the state to declare independence, attracted at least 250,000 followers, making it the most popular such site on the social media network until it was taken down earlier this year, says the Washington Post report. The IRA trolls behind the page masked their true identity and even managed to gull their American followers into organizing an armed, anti-Islamic protest in Houston.

In another Facebook group that purported to back the “Black Lives Matter” campaign, IRA trolls created interviews with prominent activists encouraging supporters to join public protest rallies, according to the RBC report. It says the trolls managed to trick at least 100 U.S.-based activists into working for them, who helped stage 40 protests nationwide during the election campaign. Sometimes IRA staff were even able to watch from St. Petersburg via live-feeds from cameras in U.S. cities.

These are the latest in a series of revelations about the scale of Russian meddling during the U.S. election campaign, which may have begun as early as 2015.

More than 100 fake sites were shut down by Facebook and other social media platforms this summer. But the U.S. desk is still operating, according to the RBC, with its staff count now reduced to 50 people. One senior IRA staff member interviewed for the report denied claims that their intervention had influenced the outcome of the U.S. election, but admitted “we were stunned by the results.”