Amid recent news that Russian groups used Facebook to influence U.S. politics, one online publication reports that Russian operatives’ reach hit close to home — in Twin Falls, where Russian influencers allegedly used the social media site to organize an anti-immigrant rally.
News broke last week that Facebook had admitted to selling political ads to Russian influencers. On Monday, the Daily Beast reported that Facebook officials had confirmed things went a step further, with Russia-based groups pushing Americans into action by organizing Facebook events echoing Republican platforms.
One such event was slated for a Saturday in August 2016 at the Twin Falls City Council Chambers.
The event, called “Citizens before refugees,” has since had its Facebook page canceled, but a cached version is still available on Google. The group hosting the event, Secured Borders, has since been deleted. The Daily Beast reports that Secured Borders was an anti-immigration Facebook community with a reach of about 133,000 followers before it was outed as a Russian front this spring.
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“Due to the town of Twin falls, Idaho, becoming a center of refugee resettlement, which led to the huge upsurge of violence towards American citizens, it is crucial to draw society’s attention to this problem,” read the description of the gathering, with the F in “falls” in lower case.
“We must stop taking in Muslim refugees! We demand open and thorough investigation of all the cases regarding Muslim refugees!”
Like the Russian-funded ads, the Facebook events were paid and targeted. The Daily Beast reported that this is the first time Facebook has acknowledged the existence of events promoted through paid advertising.
It’s not clear how many other Russian-organized events may have been planned in the U.S., how successful those events were, and whether the event pages were shut down by Facebook prior to the planned date of the events. But in Idaho, the effort mostly fell flat. Fewer than 50 people indicated they were “interested” in the event. Only four said they were actually going.
So why did Russian influencers choose Idaho? Though Twin Falls is home to a refugee resettlement program, the city has also struggled with anti-refugee and anti-immigration backlash in recent years. Most notably, rumors have swirled over claims that Syrian refugees raped a 5-year-old girl at knifepoint in a Twin Falls apartment complex, a distortion of a 2016 crime for which three juvenile boys were convicted.
Additionally, Twin Falls is home to Chobani, the maker of Greek yogurt and target of InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Earlier this year, Chobani sued Jones for defamation over his claims. According to the Daily Beast’s reporting, far-right conspiracies like Jones’ came to a head around the same time as the Aug. 27 Russian-planned rally.