With only a little over a month to go until the U.S. presidential election, Facebook appeared to have quietly removed three political fan groups that supported President Donald Trump’s reelection efforts.
The three private groups were Trump Train 2020, Red Wave, Candace Owens, and Ivanka Trump (Official). They had a combined total of over 1.6 million members and promoted pro-Trump political content. They appeared to have been removed sometime during or around the weekend of Sept. 18-20, possibly after having tripped automated signals that Facebook employs to detect behavior that is against its policies regarding coordinated inauthentic behavior.
We asked Facebook for comment on the three groups but did not receive a response.
In a past and unrelated takedown of four other similar networks, Facebook cited coordinated inauthentic behavior for the removal. The company said that it took the action because it found the networks used "fake accounts as a central part of their operations to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing." All three groups described below in our reporting appeared to fall into this same category of offense, with admin slots filled by fake or duplicate accounts for the same people.
All of this follows our previous reporting detailing Facebook's removal of a group themed for White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. The group was managed from Macedonia, and its actions violated the platform's policies.
Trump Train 2020, Red Wave
The largest of the three Facebook Groups that Snopes reporters noticed had been removed was Trump Train 2020, Red Wave, which amassed nearly 1.1 million members in just over three months. It is not uncommon to see these kinds of political Facebook Pages and Groups gain somewhat large followings relatively quickly. However, an average growth of 366,000 members per month for an unofficial political Facebook Group is not the norm.
The group's feed was filled with pro-Trump political messaging, including story links to conservative websites and a seemingly endless lineup of memes.
On Sept. 17, before the group was removed, an admin for the group named Adam Sanchez posted a screenshot of a notice he received from Facebook. He wrote that it's “not looking good for the group” and that “commies want complete domination of us.”
The notice from Facebook said that it’s against the company’s Community Standards “to mislead people or Facebook.” The first point mentioned “misrepresenting your Group’s identity or purpose.” It also described “using multiple Facebook accounts” and “creating new accounts or taking other actions to avoid restrictions.” Sanchez appeared to have at least three personal accounts.
The message from Facebook also described that it’s against its Community Standards to make it “difficult to know your content’s origin” or to make content “seem more popular than it is.”
In an attempt to move members to a new group, a second group named redwave 2020 backup was created just days before the large group was removed. It is not possible for admins of a Facebook Group to easily move members from one group to another, so they were encouraged to join the new group on their own. That "backup" group no longer exists.
Sanchez then posted a plea in a third group to rebuild:
we had the #1 trump group in the world with 1.086 million people..FB took us down for nothing.lets rebuild it.. keep the page to only election related post. NO covid post nor violent blm post.that was fb excuse for taking us down.. every bring at least 5 to 10 people and we can reach that # again. #wewontbesilenced.. fb isn't letting me invite to many people . so I need your help
He also posted a video on Sept. 22, saying: "Conservatism is the new civil rights fight of our time." Additionally, another page named Trump Train 2020 Red Wave was created on Sept. 20 and referred to the removal of the first group, vowing to rebuild.
Trump Train 2020, Red Wave was created on June 6, 2020. Less than two weeks before, George Floyd, a Black man, was killed while in police custody, sparking protests across the country. Facebook faced a new wave of scrutiny over perceived inaction as Americans’ social media feeds were dominated by news and conspiracy theories on the subjects of racial justice, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the upcoming American election.
The Red Wave group promoted Facebook events that appeared to have been created on other pages and groups, including XXXTrump rallies, Operation Block ANTIFA From WH, Back the blue and President Trump motorcade up and down Rt. 9, and Trump 2020 Boat Parade.
Candace Owens, a Facebook Group with more than 523,000 members, was also recently removed. Its theme was American conservative commentator Candace Owens, though there was no indication of her being involved with the group.
The description for the Candace Owens group pledged support to Candace Owens, “Donald Trump, Potus, Prager, Ben Shapiro, Conservative Republican Democrat America, God Bless USA, and News Frontline.” It also said: “This page is in support of Candace Owens rise to public office. Please post Candace Owens encouragement, videos and quotes.”
The group's content consisted of pro-Trump memes and links to conservative news outlets, as well as quite a few written accounts of members who said they have decided to vote for Republicans on this year's ballot, as opposed to Democrats.
D.s. Root created the group on Feb. 18, 2020. That appears to be the same user as another account, Danny Sherman, and according to Facebook, Sherman resides outside of the U.S. in Mexico. On Sept. 21, he posted about the group’s removal from both accounts:
Facebook is killing conservative groups. 523,000 people i had in Candace Owens. 400 people i had in Candace Owens Farmer. We are dealing with real life NAZIS
Colleen Mahoney commented on the same day, saying that “the Red Wave group with over a million people is gone,” referring to Trump Train 2020, Red Wave.
Michael Heryford, another admin for the "Candace Owens" group, posted on his profile on Sept. 22 that the group had been removed by Facebook. Danny Sherman, also known as D.s. Root, responded in a comment, saying he had paid advertising "ready" and the plan is to “funnel” people to “our new platform.”
One reason for the group’s removal may be that it added fake accounts for its admins. Tom Walker’s account says he lives in “Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro," and he was an admin in the group. The same profile photo appears as a stock photo on a travel blog.
Another admin in the group named John Gonzales has 10 friends and no real public photos, and one of those friends is Tom Walker. Some of the other nine friends appeared to be fake accounts as well.
Earlier this month, admins posted a search for new moderators and convened in a small CANDACE MODS group. Admins stated up front that new moderators were primarily needed to approve a backlog of tens of thousands of pending posts.
One of the moderators for the group was named Demetrius Johnson, an account that is no longer available. A Bing cache of the #WalkAway Campaign group showed that the same Demetrius Johnson account posted a story about leaving the Democratic Party. Other #WalkAway Campaign group posts were commonly shared to the Candace Owens group, including one with photographs showing a nurse donning personal protective equipment at a medical facility. In the account's post, the text detailed that the woman in the images decided to leave behind the Democratic Party.
Ivanka Trump (Official)
As part of our research for this investigation, Snopes also noticed Ivanka Trump (Official), another group that disappeared in September 2020. At last count, it had around 14,000 members. It was not the official Facebook Group for Trump's eldest daughter.
While the membership count was considerably lower than Trump Train 2020, Red Wave or Candace Owens, it's worth noting that the group was created on Aug. 13, 2016. This means it had possibly been violating Facebook's policies on coordinated inauthentic behavior since before the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
One of the admins for the group was Carolina Mendez, a fake Facebook account that used a photograph of actress Ana de Armas for its profile photo. The account's friends included people from India, Nigeria, and other countries.
The fake account displayed Mendez's workplace as the New York Yankees and twice listed attending college at New York University. It also said that she is both from New York, New York, and also is currently living there.
Fake accounts often give away their lack of authenticity with this kind of location-based information. Some people outside of the U.S. who create fake accounts may only be knowledgeable about a few American locations, like New York, California, and Texas. Often these fake account creators will list New York, New York, or Los Angeles, California, for their locations. Some even type out Texas City, Texas, or California City, California. This means that the fake account creators probably started typing a familiar state name and went with the first result. Both Texas City and California City are real cities (and have small populations), but they're also often dead giveaways for fake accounts.
The other admin for Ivanka Trump (Official) was Nidhal Naceur, a man claiming to have attended school in Morocco and Tunisia. His Facebook profile claimed he works for YouTube and now resides in Kélibia, Tunisia. It appears the mention of YouTube refers to his channel.
Posts made by members displayed pro-Trump political messaging:
A page with a small following named My President Is TRUMP was listed as both an admin for and the creator of the Ivanka Trump (Official) group. It also disappeared in September 2020.
Snopes reporters are investigating coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook. Election Day is only 39 days away. See a suspicious looking Facebook account, page, or group? Contact us.