Russian operatives used Facebook to publicize 129 phony event announcements during the 2016 presidential campaign, drawing the attention of nearly 340,000 users — many of whom said they were planning to attend — according to a company document released by the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday.
It’s not possible to know how often people gathered in response to the sham announcements, but the numbers highlight how Russian operatives were successful in prompting Americans to express a willingness to act. In some cases, Russians allegedly working in an office building in St. Petersburg motivated at least some people to mobilize behind various causes, a striking accomplishment for a foreign influence campaign.
“Not only did they influence how people viewed Russian policy, they got people to take physical action. That’s unprecedented,” said Clinton Watts, a former FBI agent who studies Russian disinformation for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “They just did it persistently, and they did it well.”