In wake of last year’s presidential election, investigations into ‘bot sites’ designed to help spread malicious and false content on social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, are on the rise.
Among the shocking discoveries, experts are finding no topic is immune from the automated advertisement-like initiatives, including American secession movements.
According to reports, Russian bots boast well-documented ties to movements here in the U.S., like #Calexit, the California secession movement allegedly run by English teacher Louis J. Marinelli, which promoted California’s independence from the rest of the nation.
Deduced from originating data, it is believed Marinelli ran the movement’s page from a city in Russia near Moscow.
Additionally, even before the #Calexit movement took shape, earlier ties between Russia and U.S. secession via Texas were found to exist.
In 2015, a man known as Nathan Smith – self proclaimed ‘Foreign Minister’ for the Texas Nationalist Movement – went to visit Moscow and attended a rally with Neo-Nazis and fascists, where Smith told a Russian newspaper Texas was just dying to break away from the U.S.
Bots operated by the Russian government spread the interview like electronic wildfire.
The group behind the rally Smith attended in 2015, and again in 2016, also received money from the Kremlin, which it reportedly used to help pay Smith’s way to Russia.
Furthermore, the “Heart of Texas” Facebook page, the most popular one on the site supporting Texas’ secession with more than 225,000 followers acquired in the months after it launched, was also allegedly started by Russia and shared a similar amount of rapid and strong support – bot or otherwise.
Russian bots worked to promote the pages, along with posts about monitoring the polls for ‘illegal immigrants’ last year around election time.
The page and its associated Twitter account were ultimately tagged as inauthentic and shut down in a mass cleanup of sites linked to Russia, but not before it tried to organize mass #Texit rallies across the country.
The administrators of the now-defunct page remain unidentified, and no Russian actors are claiming responsibility for the page, but their efforts prevail, with more propaganda sites popping up each week and the legacy of the bot pages living on eternally through the Internet.