Facebook just removed dozens of fake accounts based in Russia and Iran that were spreading misinformation and trying to meddle in elections
- Facebook continues to ramp up its efforts to protect elections in America and abroad from foreign meddling on social media.
- Facebook on Monday announced it had removed four separate networks of interconnected accounts, groups and pages engaged in "coordinated inauthentic behaviour" across Facebook and Instagram. This included nearly 200 accounts with more than 250,000 followers around the world.
- These account networks intentionally spread divisive content aimed at the United States, Latin America, and parts of North Africa. Facebook said three of the networks originated in Iran, while the other was based in Russia.
- While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company has updated its security approach to be ready for election interference, organised efforts to influence voters are a constant issue.
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Facebook is waging a constant war against online trolls looking to interfere with foreign politics, and the social media giant just gave us an inside look at the latest battle.
On Monday, Facebook announced it identified and removed four separate networks of interconnected accounts engaging in "coordinated inauthentic behaviour." In other words, these were four separate groups posting misleading content on Facebook under fake accounts, groups or pages on Facebook.
Facebook said three of the networks originated in Iran, while the fourth was based in Russia. These networks included about 200 accounts and pages that shared divisive memes and content meant to influence people in the United States, Latin America, and parts of North Africa.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, said the four networks were discovered as a part of the company's efforts to police organised campaigns launched by fake accounts. Collectively, the banned accounts had more than 250,000 followers and their posts could've reached many more people.
"We detected this activity as part of our ongoing review of suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior ahead of US elections," Gleicher wrote in a blog post. "We've shared information with our industry partners, policy makers and law enforcement and will continue working with others to find and remove this behavior."
Facebook said most of the fake accounts it finds originate from Russia, Iran, and China, and they post about politics in various parts of the world. According to Facebook, much of the "inauthentic behaviour" was designed to spark a response from people on both sides of major political issues, though some repurposed articles from Iran's state media. Most posts were responses to high-profile political figures or other media sources.
"The people behind this operation often posted on both sides of political issues including topics like US elections, environmental issues, racial tensions, LGBTQ issues, political candidates, confederate ideas, conservatism and liberalism," Gleicher said of the Russia-based accounts. "They also maintained accounts presenting themselves as local in some swing states, and posed as either conservatives or progressives."
With the 2020 US presidential election on the horizon, Facebook has been vocal about its efforts to combat political trolls. The social media platform has been widely criticised for allowing misinformation to spread across the platform, and an investigation conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller's office found that dozens of Russian agents were involved in a coordinated campaign to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
Speaking to the press during a conference call on Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook's pre-emptive detection of these fake accounts should serve as encouragement that the company is making strides on security.
Zuckerberg said the company now has 35,000 employees focused on security, and says the company is now spending more on security than its made in revenue during 2012, the same year Facebook went public.
"There's still a long way to go before election day, and we have a big responsibility to secure our platform and stay ahead of the sophisticated new threats to the integrity of elections here and around the world. Personally this is one of my top priorities for the company." Zuckerberg said. "Elections have changed significantly, and Facebook has changed too. We are confident that we are more prepared heading into 2020 to fight interference and protect the integrity of our elections."
In addition to tightened security behind the scenes, Facebook will also roll out new features designed to help people verify questionable sources online. Facebook will introduce a new tag that shows when an ad or post has been fact-checked by a third party, and news sources that are run by a local government will be labeled as such. Additionally, people creating a group or page will have their real name and location listed with Facebook for verification, to prevent foreign entities from posing as local people.
Facebook continues to face harsh criticism from Democratic presidential candidates for allowing misinformation on the platform and in paid advertisements, specifically. Last week, Zuckerberg defended the company's stance to allow some types of misinformation, so long as it doesn't lead to violence or other immediate harm. During a speech at Georgetown University, Zuckerberg said the policy was rooted in his belief in freedom of expression.
With social media becoming one of the primary venues for political discussion in recent years, the incentive to dominate the conversation or weaponise political feelings to create conflict is greater than ever. Facebook and other social media platforms will have to deal with constant attempts to disrupt natural discourage, and separate what's authentic from what's not.
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