The United Muslims of America were neither Muslims nor Americans.
That fictional organization was one of several Facebook groups Russian agents created to sow discord among American voters during the 2016 presidential race, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation into election interference.
His investigation released on Thursday concluded that President Donald Trump did not directly coordinate his political campaign with the Russian government, but it left no doubt that the Kremlin sought to influence the campaign in Trump’s favor.
Through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, the Kremlin, through a group called the Internet Research Agency, was able to disseminate incendiary, and frequently misleading stories to inflame tensions during a tense political process, according to the report.
Many of those social media posts “”disparaged” Hillary Clinton or promoted Trump, Mueller found.
“By the end of the 2016 U.S. election, the IRA had the ability to reach millions of U.S. persons through their social media accounts,” the report concluded.
The social media campaign Mueller described has been outlined in an indictment his team filed against alleged Russian operatives and in congressional testimony by leaders of social media companies. Mueller’s 448-page report underscores his findings that Russian agents had been attempting to influence opinion on social media as far back as 2014.
Through the IRA, Russian intelligence agents created pages and accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube that had millions of followers between them. It also bought ads to expand their reach, spending as much as $100,000 at Facebook, according to the report.
One advertisement showed an image of Clinton. It read, “If one day God lets this liar enter the White House as president - that day would be a real national tragedy.”
The ads, memes and calls for action reached millions of people with themes that highlighted divisive cultural issues, such as police shootings, immigration and Muslim rights.
The IRA created Facebook groups with names like “Being Patriotic,” with more than 200,000 followers, “Don’t Shoot Us,” with more than 250,000 followers, and “United Muslims of America,” with more than 300,000 followers, and “published an increasing number of materials supporting the Trump campaign and opposing the Clinton campaign,” according to the report.
“In November 2017, a Facebook representative testified that Facebook had identified 470 IRA-controlled Facebook accounts that collectively made 80,000 posts between January 2015 and August 2017. Facebook estimated the IRA reached as many as 126 million persons through its Facebook accounts,” the report said.
On Twitter, Russians used accounts like @jenn_abrams, “claiming to be a Virginian Trump supporter,” and @Pamela_Moore13, “claiming to be a Texan Trump supporter,” to reach their tens of thousands of followers.
“Using these accounts and others, the IRA provoked reactions from users and the media . Multiple IRA-posted tweets gained popularity” and were reinforced by Trump allies. Mueller’s report in footnotes cites Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump adviser Roger Stone and Trump ally Michael Flynn Jr. sharing messages created by the Russian accounts.
The IRA also used social media to organize and promote fake grassroots political rallies, posing as activists “to announce and promote the event,” according to the report.
The IRA agents would seek out an American to serve as the event’s coordinate and then tell that person “that they could not attend the event due to some preexisting conflict or because they were somewhere else in the United States.”
“After the event, the IRA posted videos and photographs of the event to the IRA ‘s social media accounts,” according to the report.
The first such example of these fake rallies? A “Confederate rally” in November 2015, according to the Mueller report.
After June 2016, the IRA focused its efforts toward organizing rallies that focused on the U.S. election, including a series of pro-Trump rallies in Florida in August 2016.
“The Florida rallies drew the attention of the Trump campaign, which posted about the Miami rally on candidate Trump’s Facebook account,” the report found.