The “I Love America” Facebook page boasted 1.1 million followers with content operated by 10 people based in Ukraine, journalist Judd Legum reported in his newsletter Popular Information. The page’s pro-Trump messages soared in recent weeks.
Those posts apparently jumped when Trump was pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate unfounded accusations that former Vice President Joe Biden had attempted to block a corruption probe into a Ukrainian company linked to his son. Trump’s apparent attempt to use his presidential power to harm the Democrat who could face him in 2020 has sparked calls for the president’s impeachment.
Other pages linked to “I Love America” and created in the last few months collectively generated tens of millions of “interactions” with people who liked, shared or commented on a post, outpacing several of America’s largest news sites, Legum noted.
“I Love America” often recycled memes used by Russia’s Internet Research Agency, which established fake Facebook pages to amass millions of followers and boost Trump in the 2016 election before they were finally shut down.
The same images that Russia’s IRA posted also appeared on the “I Love America” page. They were often transformed into clickbait “videos” by using a camera to pan over or zoom in on photos, noted Renee DiResta, a research manager at Stanford University’s Internet Observatory.
Another thing in here that was interesting was the conversion of IRA memes (among others) to video form. The videos pan or zoom on the meme, then the frame changes to ask audiences to like/share. A number of the videos had substantial engagement. pic.twitter.com/8xiNyXbyqP
— Renee DiResta (@noUpside) September 23, 2019
DiResta noted on Twitter that the posts appeared to be more “commercial” than government-run, but said she was surprised by the amount of traffic they received.
The network of pages linked to “I Love America” featured posts on patriotism, Jesus and cute puppies.
3. "I Love America" is part of a complex network of Ukrainian-run Facebook pages that seek to amass large audiences and then funnel them to rabidly pro-Trump pages.These include pages featuring cute dogs and Jesushttps://t.co/0MRNxVJbUJ pic.twitter.com/1CSewIkgnh
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) September 23, 2019
A Facebook representative initially told Legum on Sunday that the company would not take down the page — or others linked to it — because it didn’t violate the company’s policies, including one barring “coordinated inauthentic behavior” to mislead followers.
But when the story began to circulate Monday, Facebook took action.
“We are removing these pages for violating our policies against spam and fake accounts and are continuing to investigate for any further violations,” Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborn said in an email to HuffPost.
The company removed a total of nine pages, including some featuring dogs, Jesus and a page titled “God Bless Donald Trump and God Bless America,” The Washington Post reported.
Facebook said it had not detected links to a government actor but is continuing its investigation.
David Carroll, an associate professor of media design at the New School in New York, tweeted Monday that it was surprising Facebook hadn’t automated the detection of recycled memes from Moscow’s IRA to immediately crack down on copycats who might be following Russia’s playbook.
You’d think Facebook would have fingerprinted the RU IRA memes to automate their detection when recycled on new pages with huge audiences in the US but operated out of Ukraine. But no. @JuddLegum’s latest discovery is “troubling” leading up to 2020. https://t.co/A9HBQRvseA
— David Carroll 🦅 (@profcarroll) September 23, 2019 Download REAL LIFE. REAL NEWS. REAL VOICES. Help us tell more of the stories that matter from voices that too often remain unheard. Join HuffPost Plus