U.S.-aimed political propaganda originating in Macedonia

This piece examines the phenomenon of people in Macedonia producing and sharing politically divisive content in a pro-Trump Facebook group.

It’s well-known that Macedonians produced a lot of fake news and propaganda leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election (here’s one article about it, and another one). But I have not seen any stories about this happening after the election. By the sheer amount of content I see shared in this single Facebook group, it seems this foreign-produced content is still as rampant as ever.

At the end of this piece I’ve included some screenshots of responses from group members showing how riled up they get in response to these posts.

I’m in a pro-Trump Facebook group called Men And Women In Support Of President Trump. It has ~42,000 members and grows steadily. The group has little to no moderation, so all sorts of posts, no matter how easily-debunked or hateful, are allowed in there.

This post was shared on 6/18/17:

A few things to break down about this post:

The account who shared it, Bube Dukov: the location in his FB account is shown to be Veles, Macedonia — the same city known for pro-Trump propaganda leading up to the election. Here’s an image of his Facebook account:

The group that originally posted the image, which Dukov shared, is called Global Politico. Here is the Global Politico Facebook group. Here’s their website. Their description on their Facebook page says: “Global Politico is your daily conservative news desk. We are bringing you the best conservative and global news in one place. WE ARE THE PEOPLE…”

I did a domain look-up on their domain and saw that it was owned by a “Blagov Delovski,” also in Veles, Macedonia. Here’s an image from that lookup:

To show that this is not a one-off posting, this is another example by the same poster that happened the following day. He shared a video (screenshot of it below) that comes from a site WeTheConservatives.com, which is full of pro-Trump and anti-liberal “news” and videos.

The WeTheConservatives.com site owner information is hidden by a domain privacy service, but looking more closely at the site, you can see some words are in Macedonian. Here’s a screenshot showing the file name for the ‘We The Conservatives’ logo. The word ‘konecno’ is Macedonian for ‘final’.

And another post in the same Facebook group, from 6/19/17:

And here’s another one from a different Facebook account in the same group:

The poster, Mile Atanasav, is in Macedonia. This wasn’t obvious to me at first, but in scrolling back through his public Facebook feed, I saw this:

Here’s another one from 6/20, from another person:

These last couple share content from a Facebook group entitled The States politics. Its group About section says: “We inform people about politics news from the States.” It has ~76,000 Likes/followers at this point. Most of the content on the page is in broken English, as is common for many of the memes and content posted in this Facebook group.

Here’s another one below, posted 6/21/17:

The Macedonian Facebook user, Kire Prodavov, posted this, sharing it from a Facebook group called America Fans. Their website is here: www.AmericaFans.com. Looking up the domain, you can see that this is also registered in Macedonia.

These kinds of posts are being posted multiple times a day just in this one Facebook group, and there are many of these kind of Facebook groups.

The intent (at least one of the intents) is to drive traffic to the websites sharing the content, where there are aggregations of both real and fake news stories. Some of the fake news stories are so obviously fake, it’d be funny if it wasn’t for the fact that so many Americans seem to believe them. (Here’s a good example of how ridiculous these articles can be.) The sites are filled with ads, and the site owners make money when people click on the ads. (Here’s an article where a Macedonian teen talks about the money he’s made sharing this type of content.)

Many people seem to think this content-production is solely a revenue-scheme aimed at getting cheap clicks fueled by anger/hate. Is it possible it’s more nefarious than this? I don’t know. I’ve been reading about the connection between rightwing groups in Macedonia and rightwing groups and people in the U.S. Here are a couple articles: Washington Post article from 3/1/17 and an article from OCCRP: an anti-crime/corruption organization. I’m not saying this is all connected, but it would seem strange to me if these Macedonian rightwing groups were not connected to the Macedonia-produced rightwing propaganda and clickbait in some way.

Finally, I’ll end with some screenshots of some comments made in response to the first post mentioned in this piece, which asked “Are Republicans being targeted?”. My point here is to show the division this propaganda is causing amongst our citizens, not to expose or shame these specific people. (Also, I think there’s a good chance many of the Facebook accounts, like Bube’s, are not U.S. citizens and are aimed at posting divisive content. That would be a good idea for something to examine on another day.)

Finally, here’s an example of some fake news shared in this Trump group and people’s angry reactions to it. (From the limited reliable information I could find, there is apparently some truth in that the lawyers in question did file a Motion of Protection, but they did not say anything about their witnesses being murdered.)

The www.YourNewsWire.com website is not Macedonian but is known for being a source of fake news; it has been said to have been “used by the Russians as a proxy site to spread disinformation.” I included this site because it’s one of the more clear examples of fake news recently in that group and the comments give a good sense of how people in that group believe and respond to the fake news and propaganda.

Here’s another piece I wrote about a possible example of Russian-created propaganda aimed at influencing the U.S. election.

Have psych podcast “People Who Read People.” My research into online deception featured in NYT, WaPo, more. Wrote books on poker tells (translated 8 languages).

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