Facebook removed several pages supporting President Donald Trump which were managed by Ukrainians on Monday after media attention focused on their ties to the Internet Research Agency (IRA).
The IRA (not to be confused with the left-wing Irish nationalist and occasional terrorist organization) is ostensibly a member of the Russian private sector but is widely believed to be influenced in part by the Kremlin. The February 16 indictment filed by former special counsel Robert Mueller alleged that thirteen individuals and various legal entities, “posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences” during the 2016 presidential election.
According to independent journalist and ThinkProgress alum Judd Legum, the legacy of IRA trolls has more or less lived on through a number of Facebook pages run by individuals based in Ukraine.
In a Popular Information post about the “complex network” of Facebook pages spreading pro-Trump memes, Legum notes that the “I Love America” Facebook page had a massive reach of “1.1 million fans, with viral content that reaches more Facebook users than some of the largest media outlets in the United States.”
All told, Legum says, the network of pro-Trump pages from the Ukraine identified in the report were able to reach more eyeballs than either the New York Times or the Washington Post.
Each of the Ukrainian pages apparently accrued large audiences by “posting memes about patriotism, Jesus, and cute dogs,” according to Legum. Eventually those pages began posting pro-Trump memes, cross-posting to other pro-Trump pages and disseminating “incendiary” content which “frequently includes misinformation.”
Per that report:
While the “I Love America” page was created in 2017, in recent weeks it has cross-posted content from explicitly pro-Trump pages, including “Click Like, if you love Donald Trump as much as we do. TRUMP 2020,” “God bless Donald Trump and God bless America,” and “God bless Donald and Melania Trump and God bless America.” All of these pages, which were created in the last few months, are managed exclusively by people based in Ukraine.
And, according to Legum, “I Love America” frequently repurposed several IRA memes from the Russian troll farm’s old Facebook group “Being Patriotic.”
One meme shared by one of the Ukrainian pages incorrectly claimed Hillary Clinton sold access to her private email server–regurgitating a three-year-old scandal in apparent preparation for the 2020 election. Another meme referred to Barack Obama as a “racist president.”
Legum also noted that the “Cute or Not” puppy page has transitioned into a defender of the First Family. They recently shared a meme from the “God bless” page listed above which valorizes Melania Trump as “a loving mother, a legal immigrant and a great woman.”
Another page, “I Love Jesus Forever,” has apparently given up on the teachings of Christ in order to share laudatory images of President Trump walking with his grandchildren on the White House lawn.
All of those pages, however, have since been removed.
Via Twitter, Legum credited his own reporting for those deletions:
Last night, Facebook told me the pages did not violate its policy on coordinated inauthentic behavior and there was no policy against posting memes. But there was a huge reaction to this piece today. My original thread has 13K retweets and it was #2 on Reddit’s front page
A Facebook spokesperson told Law&Crime the pages were removed due to violating the social media company’s policies against spam and fake accounts. The company stressed that they were still investigating the pages for coordinated inauthentic behavior and had not yet uncovered any such behavior–which would also be a violation of Facebook policy.
The spokesperson also said Facebook doesn’t currently have evidence the Ukrainian pages were directly linked to state actors–but stressed that an investigation was currently ongoing. That spokesperson said an internal Facebook assessment suggested the Ukrainian pages were part of a spam network which was recycling old content for clickbait–and that they wanted to assess the entire network before taking additional action.
[Image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images]