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Russians May Have Used Facebook to Push Pro-Trump Rallies During 2016 Election

September 20, 2017, 8:09 PM UTC

In the waning days of the 2016 presidential election, suspected Russian propagandists may have used Facebook to organize pro-Trump rallies across 17 cities in Florida.

In an explosive new report, news site The Daily Beast says Facebook accounts believed to have been operated by Russian propagandists tried to rally Floridians for a “Florida Goes Trump!” effort. Trump supporters were asked to start a “patriotic state-wide flash mob” in the 17 cities, The Daily Beast says.

“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!” an event page supporting the effort said, according to The Daily Beast. The event was created by an organization that called itself Being Patriotic, which had 200,000 followers on Facebook at the time, the report says. The account was ultimately taken down in August 2017, at the same time Facebook removed accounts believed to have been operated by Russia’s Internet Research Agency.

Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election has been debated for more than a year. Most recently, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton suggested that she believed Russians played a role in her loss to President Donald Trump last year. Investigations are ongoing about any Russian government involvement in influencing the election and any help it received from U.S. citizens.

President Vladimir Putin has denied Russian involvement.

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According to U.S. intelligence agencies, Russian operatives used social media to target voters in key battleground states to ultimately sway the election. Those operatives are also said to have created and disseminated fake online news and ads to influence voters.

In response to complaints, Facebook and Twitter have both deleted accounts believed to have ties to Russian operatives.

The Daily Beast said in its report that the Florida Goes Trump! effort is the first known case of Russians actually getting Americans to take to the streets in support of Trump. However, after the accounts vanished from Facebook, much of the evidence was lost, making it difficult to know what kind of turnout the efforts generated. Videos and photos of rallies in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs are still accessible on Facebook, the report says.

In its report, The Daily Beast said that it found no direct link between the Being Patriotic account and the Trump campaign. Its research did, however, suggest that an unknown number of Americans responded to the rallies and showed up for the flash mobs.

One man who was listed as one of the rallies’ organizers told Daily Beast that he was called to organize the event in Clearwater, where “a dozen or so people” stood on a “street corner.” He added that “it had happened all over the state.” He didn’t, however, mention any Russian involvement.

In the end, Florida was critical to President Trump’s election. Trump won the state with 49.1% of the total vote compared with Clinton’s 47.8%.