The most widely followed Facebook page claiming association with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was likely set up by a middle-aged, white, Australian man to extract donations from sympathetic users, an investigation by CNN has found.
The page, titled “Black Lives Matter,” has attracted roughly 700,000 followers since its inception sometime in 2016, and solicited roughly $100,000 in donations through online services such as Patreon and PayPal, some of which went directly to Australian bank accounts, rather than to support BLM causes in the U.S. as advertised. The accounts behind the page also ran the most popular Black Lives Matter Facebook group, which boasted more than 40,000 members.
While the extent of his involvement is unclear, the fraudulent page continuously linked to websites run by Ian Mackay, a National Union of Workers official in Australia who has registered dozens of domains related to the black civil-rights movement, including one called blackpowerfist.com and another carrying the URL blacklivesmatter.media.
MacKay denied any involvement in running the Facebook page and it was deleted a few hours after he was contacted by CNN. The various online donation services utilized by the page have also discontinued accounts related to it.
The Monday report comes as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to field questions from Congress this week about the platform’s privacy policies and the extent to which lack of protections allowed malicious political actors to exploit user data. Facebook has announced a series of policy changes in the run up to Zuckerberg’s testimony, one of which will require that users in control of large pages verify their identities and locations. But it’s not clear that reform would have prevented the fraudulent BLM page, as Facebook has not committed to sharing page administrators’ information with users and, when contacted by CNN, company officials initially said the page did not violate the platform’s community standards.