Fake US Muslim Facebook group traced back to Russia: Report
A Russian-operated fake Facebook page that had 268,000 followers made dubious claims during the 2016 election under the guise of an already established Muslim group in the US, the Daily Beast reported on Wednesday.
The group, United Muslims of America, posted content that said Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “created, funded and armed” al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group. It also said that Senator John McCain helped found IS, and that Osama bin-Laden was in cahoots with the CIA, according to the report.
Even though much of the Facebook page's content largely posted positive memes of Muslims, it sometimes veered into fake news.
One meme had text over John McCain that said "Syrian refugees didn't create ISIS... I did," according to the Daily Beast report.
The fake group also created an event under the phrase, "Support Hillary. Save American Muslims," after a shooter killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub.
Unidentified sources told the Daily Beast that the fake group, which also had a Twitter account and a 71,000-follower Instagram page, was traced back to Russia.
“Russia knows no ends and no limits to which groups they would masquerade as to carry out their objectives,” Democratic lawmaker Eric Swalwell told the Daily Beast.
“The imposter account identified itself as the “United Muslims of America,” and used the URL Facebook.com/MuslimAmerica, which may have helped Russia obscure its masquerade. The real United Muslims of America operates a Facebook page at Facebook.com/UnitedMuslimsofAmericaUMA,” the Daily Beast report read.
Though the group’s president told the Daily Beast that it is currently “not functional,” it has hosted events with lawmakers.
In early September, Facebook, the world's largest social network, said that an operation likely based in Russia had placed thousands of US ads with polarising views on topics including immigration, race and gay rights on the site.
"We're seeing more evidence of additional ads and how they are used to manipulate individuals," US Senator Mark Warner, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s vice chairman, told reporters.
On Monday, Facebook turned over to Congress at least $100,000 worth of Russian-purchased advertisements that depicted Muslims and Black Lives Matter as political enemies, according to a Washington Post report.
The ads, which were bought and utilised during the 2016 US presidential election, had intended to “sow discord among religious groups,” the Washington Post report said.
“These targeted messages, along with others that have surfaced in recent days, highlight the sophistication of an influence campaign slickly crafted to mimic and infiltrate US political discourse while also seeking to heighten tensions between groups already wary of one another,” it read.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied that his government interfered with the US election, in which Republican Donald Trump prevailed over Democrat Hillary Clinton.