Russian 'trolls' on Facebook organised Islamophobic protest in Texas

#Islamophobia

Russia-linked posts were used during 2016 US presidential campaign to spread divisive messages, including anti-Muslim rhetoric

Facebook has said that Russians used about 470 fake Facebook accounts to purchase ads (Reuters)
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Friday 6 October 2017 23:29 UTC
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When a Facebook page called for a protest against a Muslim library in Houston last year, about a dozen protesters turned up at the demonstration with Confederate flags and anti-Muslim slogans.

The group behind the protest was called the Heart of Texas, but it later emerged that it was based in St Petersburg, Russia.

The Facebook page, which has been taken down, consistently posted Islamophobic content, according to CNN.

Before the rally - dubbed “Stop Islamization of Texas” - took place in Houston on 21 May 2016, a comment appeared on the page calling for “blow[ing] this place up”.

We shouldn't be too surprised that people outside this country have taken advantage of our inability to come together as a nation.

- Mustafaa Carroll, CAIR

The Heart of Texas was a part of a wider effort to turn up the rhetoric against Muslims and other groups in what US intelligence agencies say was a push by the Russian government to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in last year’s election.

Mustafaa Carroll, the Texas executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said it is ironic that far-right activists who claim to be patriotic were answering the call of Russian propaganda.

However, he refused to lay the blame on Moscow for the rise of Islamophobia in the US. Carroll compared the hate and racism propagated nationwide to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), making the country weak and susceptible to foreign agitation.

"We shouldn't be too surprised that people outside this country have taken advantage of our inability to come together as a nation," Carroll told Middle East Eye.

He also criticised Trump's leadership and failure to unite Americans.

Facebook has said that Russians used about 470 fake Facebook accounts to purchase ads that propagated fake stories and Islamophobic content. According to the social network, 10 million Americans have seen Russian-sponsored posts.

A special prosecutor and congressional committees are investigating possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia. Moscow denies interfering in the election.

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The "troll" pages are linked to the Internet Research Agency in St Petersburg, where “thousands of fake Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts have been created in a once-secret attempt to sway public opinion against the West,” according to Share America, a news website operated by the US State Department.

Carroll said the revelations about Russia's involvement in the elections should be used to reject prejudice.

“We don’t need other people getting our business, coming here and trying to fan the flames of hate,” he said. “This is hurting the country.”