Bud Kennedy

Did you ‘like’ Texas secession on Facebook? Russia fooled 250,000 of us

The “Heart of Texas” Facebook page declared, “Time to Secede.”

More than 250,000 readers “liked” it for regular posts praising guns, barbecue, Christianity and Dr Pepper, and criticizing Islam, Yankees and “hypo-Clintos.”

So the Russians played 250,000 of us for fools.

“The Russians don’t drive tanks across countries anymore — they do cyberwarfare,” 48-year CBS News reporter and anchor Bob Schieffer said last week on a regular visit home to Fort Worth.

It cost $200 for Russia to run two Facebook ads as the “Heart of Texas,” rallying readers to stage dueling street protests in Houston: one opposing Islam, one on another page supporting it.

Most of all, the “Heart of Texas” lobbied for Texas rebellion.

“The Russians do this all across Europe,” Schieffer said.

“They undermine every institution. They raise questions about officials and the press. They sow discontent every way they can. And we are finally getting the full picture.”

Schieffer is a hometown guy. He played high school and college baseball here, wrote for the Star-Telegram and anchored the KXAS/Channel 5 nightly news.

He comes back often to his beloved Texas Christian University and its Bob Schieffer College of Communication.

But this visit, about his new book, “Overload: Finding the Truth in Today’s Deluge of News,” could not have come at a more perfect time.

On Wednesday, lawmakers in Washington showed off 3,000 Facebook ads from Russians in 2016, some bought with rubles.

“We are just overwhelmed with this stuff,” Schieffer said.

Speaking at TCU on Thursday, Schieffer said the Texas secession page is an example of how we are really confused. “Who do I trust? Where do I go to get news? This is a serious question.”

Schieffer wrote in these pages last week about the gusher of information on social media, most of it with no identification of who wrote it, posted it or paid for it.

I ignored the ads for “Heart of Texas” last year. But I tried to trace a vile Facebook page named “Secured Borders.”

The graphic posts said immigrants caught here illegally should be executed, showed ugly cartoons of Latinos and described Michelle Obama as “a bitch who ruined our [school] lunches.”

Secured Borders didn’t list an author, a contact or even an anonymous email address. It didn’t even ask for money.

Like “Heart of Texas,” “Secured Borders” was an unsigned Russian page trolling for spite.

Workers in the St. Petersburg, Russia-based Internet Research Agency called it the “troll factory.” Each worker had to write 20-30 online posts per day for a paycheck of about $700 per month.

We don’t even know how many Facebook groups or accounts they operated. But Facebook has told Senate investigators more than 3,000 ads were seen by 146 million Americans.

Some supported Donald Trump; others Bernie Sanders. But most of all, they promoted suspicion, distrust and extremism, including Texas secession.

(We tried that in 1861. It didn’t work out.)

“It’s all being done with a purpose,” Schieffer said.

That purpose is not good for Texas or America.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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