Facebook Removed Fake Accounts That Were Trying To Interfere With Midterm Elections
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On Tuesday, August 31, 2018, Facebook said that it had identified a political influence campaign that was potentially built to disrupt the midterm elections. Facebook was able to detect and remove 32 pages and fake accounts that had engaged in activities in divisive social issues. Facebook was not able to definitively link the campaign to Russia, but its officials said some of the tools and techniques used by these accounts were very similar to those used by the IRA (Internet Research Agency), the Kremlin-linked group that was at the center of an indictment in 2018, alleging interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.
Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher said, “At this point in our investigation, we do not have enough technical evidence to state definitively who is behind it. But we can say that these accounts engaged in some similar activity and have connected with known I.R.A. accounts.”
There had been other meddling reports in recent weeks, such as a Daily Beast report that the Missouri Democratic Senator up for re-election this Fall, Claire McCaskill, was unsuccessfully targeted by Russian hackers last year. At least one other unnamed Democratic senator up for re-election has also been targeted. Facebook officials were working with the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and other intelligence agencies on their discovery of the influence campaign. Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, and other executives also mounted a media blitz to explain what Facebook did and did not know about the efforts. After Facebook was widely criticized for failing to detect Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 election, it took Facebook executives months to acknowledge the extent of the Russian operation and release information connected with their investigation.
Lawmakers from both parties said Facebook’s disclosure only confirmed what they had feared since the Russian interference in 2016 elections became clear more than a year ago: social media companies would be unable to keep up with the pace and scope of efforts to abuse their platforms. Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina said he would make the disclosure the central part of a previously scheduled hearing on Wednesday, when lawmakers plan to press experts on the pervasiveness of foreign influence on social media networks such as Facebook. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia praised Facebook on Tuesday for bringing the activity out to the public, and asked for its cooperation in updating laws to prevent future influence campaigns. “Today’s disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation,” he said.
In the battle of foreign campaigns as a cat-and-mouse game, Facebook is making progress to detect suspicious activity more quickly. Facebook said the recently purged accounts, 8 Facebook pages, 17 Facebook profiles, and 7 Instagram accounts, were created between March, 2017 and May, 2018, and were first discovered about two weeks ago. More than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the suspect pages, with names such as Aztlan Warriors, Black Elevation, Mindful Being, and Resisters.
Facebook is using artificial intelligence and teams of human reviewers to detect automated accounts and suspicious election-related activity. It also has made it harder for Russian influence campaigns to use covert Facebook ads to sway public opinion by requiring political advertisers in the USA to register with a domestic mailing address, last 4 digits of the social security #, and by making all political ads visible in a public database. The midterm election would be a major test for Facebook, trying to show that it can handle its role as a global arbiter of conversation and commerce.
The director of national intelligence Dan Coats warned in early July that Russian interference is still an active threat to November elections.He said, “The warning lights are blinking red again.”
Gathered, written, and posted by Windermere Sun-Susan Sun Nunamaker
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