While Facebook didn’t identify the source of the coordination, CNN reported that company representatives told Congress they suspect Russian links behind the activity. Facebook also wrote in a statement Tuesday that the pages and accounts shared “connections” with those previously linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) — an assessment shared by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab.
The announcement follows a series of similar actions, including the removal of 270 pages in April and, most notably, over 470 accounts last fall, sparking the past year’s revelations and debate about Russian social media interference.
Any move to shutter these fake pages is of course a welcome step — especially when some of the pages specifically attempt to inflame racial tensions, organize anti-Trump protests, or post material regarding the acquisition of Russian weapons. (As the “Aztlan Warriors” account, removed in the batch announced Tuesday, wrote in one post, “I could see Russia supplying with Russian weapons to take back the land.”)
But as with many actions Facebook has taken over the past year, the announcement not only highlights how delayed the company’s response has been — many of these pages had been live for over a year — but how much it has left to do. Moreover, Tuesday’s announcement raised new questions about the accounts Facebook still hasn’t removed, specifically those that continue to post material lifted and re-posted directly from the Russian pages previously taken down.
Facebook did not respond to ThinkProgress’ questions on the topic.
Russian material lives on
ThinkProgress has reported on a number of Facebook pages and Instagram accounts featuring material that originated on IRA pages; these IRA accounts were also cited in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment against 13 Russians earlier this year. The remaining Facebook pages and Instagram accounts are all still active, despite Facebook’s pledge to remove related material.
On Facebook, for instance, the “Texas in my Heart” page, which now has nearly 40,000 followers, continues to feature dozens of memes and posts that were lifted directly from the Russian “Heart of Texas” page. The “Heart of Texas” account, as Wednesday’s Senate Intelligence Hearing made clear, was one of the most shared fake Russian pages, something “Texas in my Heart” appears to have capitalized on.
“Texas in my Heart” has no contact information and no clear administrators, and has posted dozens of images that originated on “Heart of Texas,” clearly showing the “Heart of Texas” watermark.
Likewise, as with “Heart of Texas,” “Texas in my Heart” has been eager to share divisive content that is now known to have originated in Russia. For instance, some posts call for banning Syrian refugees from the state, while others seek to drum up support for President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the Mexican border.
And just as “Heart of Texas” did, “Texas in my Heart” has pushed notions of Texas secession. As one post, lifted directly from the fake Russian account, read, “America’s sinking — we gotta get out before it goes down.”
But “Heart of Texas” isn’t the only pro-secession account that continues to feature material lifted from fake Russian pages. Posts from the Russian “South United” page, which advocated both neo-Confederate secession and anti-minority sentiments, remain live on a number of Instagram accounts identified by ThinkProgress.
Many of these accounts appear to be state-level chapters of the original “South United” page, including states like Missouri and Louisiana, which post material lifted directly from the original “South United” account.
Other accounts, all of which are still active, focus instead on states not generally understood to be in the South, such as New York, Iowa, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. All of them, though, continue to post material that originated on the fake Russian “South United” page.
And then there’s ReportSecret.com, a fake news site run by the Internet Research Agency, which was also highlighted in Wednesday’s Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearing. As ThinkProgress first reported in November, the site was linked to numerous Twitter accounts that had been removed due to Russian ties.
The site itself was eventually removed sometime last month — but the Facebook pages linked to the site remain live.
As ever, Facebook appears to be playing something closer to whack-a-mole with Russia-linked accounts, only taking action months or years after the pages were created. It’s unclear when Facebook first learned of the pages they removed this week — but they’d been in existence for months, and were followed by nearly 300,000 other Facebook accounts.
Likewise, the company appears to be pursuing a policy of ignoring other accounts that re-post troves of material that originated on these fake Russian Facebook and Instagram pages. The original Russian pages may be gone — but their material, just like the dreams of a new Confederacy, have continued to rise, time and again.