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Russia trolls stoked anti-Muslim sentiment before election: GOP senator

 

Two Russian-linked Facebook accounts — one anti-immigrant and the other pro-Muslim — pitted Houston-area residents against each other prior to the 2016 election, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Wednesday

One group, titled “The Heart of Texas,” promoted pro-Texas and anti-immigration messages with a tagline “Texas: Homeland of Guns, BBQ and ur heart!"

The other, titled “United Muslims of America,” claimed to be pro-Islam, and had a tagline “I’m a Muslim and I’m proud.”

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The two groups placed advertisements on Facebook promoting events at the same time on May 21, 2016, near an Islamic Community Center. The ads were viewed by nearly 15,000 people combined, Burr said.

Supporters from both pages then attended competing protests on opposite sides of the street near the community center.

Russian-linked trolls created and advertised the events for $200, Burr said during a hearing with representatives from Facebook, Google and Twitter about Russian interference in the election. 

“What neither side could’ve known is that Russian trolls were encouraging both sides to battle in the streets and create division between real Americans," Burr said. "It’s hard to attend an event in Houston, Texas, when you’re trolling from a site in St. Pete, Russia. Establishing these two competing groups, paying for the ads and causing this disruptive event in Houston cost Russia about $200."

The senator told Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch that while the site’s stated goal is to bring people together, the social media giant failed in this instance.

The Houston event is not the first 2016 rally to be backed by Russian accounts. 

As many as 5,000 to 10,000 people attended a New York City march last November a few days after the election that was organized by BlackMattersUS, a Russian-linked group that sought to capitalize on racial tensions.