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CSUSB professor elaborates on comments about influence of Russian social media posts on three men convicted in Kansas bombing plot

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CSUSB professor elaborates on comments about influence of Russian social media posts on three men convicted in Kansas bombing plot
June 14, 2018

On April 18, a jury convicted three Kansas men of conspiring to use “weapons of mass destruction” against an apartment complex where many of the residents were Somali refugees. They were arrested before they were able to carry out their bomb plot in 2016. All three were known to be very active on Facebook, where they called themselves “Crusaders.” Prior to their arrest, they speculated that the apartment complex was home to human traffickers and radicals affiliated with the Islamic State group.

On June 10, the Kansas City Star reported that the men “may have been motivated” by Russian “manipulation on social media,” specifically Facebook. However, the article did not prove a conclusive link between the men and the Facebook ads and pages created by Russia in 2016. Instead, the expert cited in the article, Brian Levin of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at CSUSB, simply noted a correlation between the time the three men were planning their attack and the period in 2016 when the Russians were placing an increasing number of ads with racially charged content.

Polygraph.info talked to Levin, who clarified the comments he made to the Kansas City Star.

“If you read my quotes, they’re accurate,” he said. “The bottom line is -- the point I’m trying to make is that we have data, and some of this data is intriguing and correlates to certain fluctuations we’ve seen. But by the same token if you’re looking for a record for who saw what ad on Facebook, that’s not something we did, nor did we make some declarative statement about.”

Levin explained how the three suspects were known to be very active on Facebook and social media, where they shared anti-Muslim material. However, there is no publicly available information to suggest they did or did not share or even have or have not seen the Russian-made material. It is only a possibility due to Facebook’s ad-promotion algorithms, which attempt to promote content based on users’ perceived interests, and to the fact that some of the Russian ads garnered a large audience. …

“Our data is very useful, but it has to be in the context of something larger,” he said. “Tribalism is widespread. Trust in institutions is very low. The communal bonds that hold people together have unraveled, and people feel isolated. Bottom line is, what Russia has been able to do is show that when a country isn’t connected together by various common threads, including philosophical ones, it’s easy to disrupt these countries and their allies.”

Polygraph.info is a fact-checking website produced by Voice of America (VOA)​ and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The website serves as a resource for verifying the increasing volume of disinformation and misinformation being distributed and shared globally. A similar website in the Russian language can be found at factograph.info.

Read the complete article at “Was there a connection between Russian Facebook propaganda and a foiled terrorist attack in Kansas City?

This news clip and others may be found at “In the Headlines” on the Inside CSUSB website.

TAGS:Brian Levin, criminal justice, Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, social media, race, racism, hate crime, Russia, extremism, Top Stories

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