April 15, 2024


Your Partner in The Digital Era

Internet entrepreneurs far from the U.S. are inflaming political division on Facebook to sell T-shirts and coffee mugs

On a wintry morning in the town of Moulvibazar in northeast Bangladesh, 21-year-old Saeed Ahmed was reading news on Facebook when he came across an unusual story: Truckers were staging a mass protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the Canadian capital of Ottawa.

Much of the world was bewildered by the Freedom Convoy and its disruptive blockades, but Ahmed was excited. He sensed an opportunity — one made possible by two tech companies with roots in the Bay Area.

Ahmed created a fake Facebook profile, pretending to be an American named Krystle Marie, and used the profile to build a pro-convoy group called Convoy Freedom 2022. Writing as Krystle, Ahmed sent a flood of posts supporting the truckers and bashing liberals such as President Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Many people found his group simply by searching for terms like “Freedom Convoy,” but Ahmed also hooked people by sharing viral pro-convoy messages and memes. His Facebook group swelled, attracting more than 15,000 followers at its peak.

It was only then that the savvy spammer made his move: Ahmed, as Krystle, began to steer his followers to an online retail store where he offered shirts, coffee mugs and other items emblazoned with symbols like flags and big rigs and slogans like “Don’t Mess with the Truckers” and “Truck You, Trudeau.”