View profile

Facebook discovers new enemies, foreign and domestic

Revue
 
Earlier this week, The Daily Beast published a story with a counterintuitive finding. As best as rese
 
October 11 · Issue #225 · View online
The Interface
Earlier this week, The Daily Beast published a story with a counterintuitive finding. As best as researchers could tell, there was no evidence that Russia is trying to interfere in the US midterm elections:
Russian social media trolls are, of course, still promulgating fake news and slapping frantically at America’s hot buttons—tweeting wildly in favor of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, according to researchers, and pushing a counter-protest against last summer’s white supremacist Unite the Right 2 rally. The GRU is still hacking into computers in the U.S. and everywhere else. But so far, Russia-watchers say the trolls haven’t delved into the nitty gritty of 35 Senate campaigns and 435 House races. Nor has the GRU engineered the type of damaging email dumps that tent-posted the 2016 election circus.
There’s still plenty of disinformation to be found online, of course. And according to Facebook, much of it is homegrown:
Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior. Given the activity we’ve seen — and its timing ahead of the US midterm elections — we wanted to give some details about the types of behavior that led to this action. Many were using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names and posted massive amounts of content across a network of Groups and Pages to drive traffic to their websites. Many used the same techniques to make their content appear more popular on Facebook than it really was. Others were ad farms using Facebook to mislead people into thinking that they were forums for legitimate political debate.
As Sheera Frankel reported in the New York Times, was the largest purge of domestic bad actors on Facebook to date. But while we often focus on foreign efforts to disrupt our elections, the bulk of the influence campaigns, as you would expect, originate here. “If you look at volume, the majority of the information operations we see are domestic actors,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security, told Frankel.
What kind of information operations were these people running? Frankel traces the rise of Right Wing News, which had 3.1 million followers, and was recently posting false stories stating that lawyers for Christine Blasey Ford had been bribed in connection with her testimony about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Often, though, the discourse on these pages was within the mainstream of political discussion, even if hyper-partisan in nature. Lizza Dwoskin and Tony Romm have more examples in the Washington Post.
The domestic pages and accounts Facebook removed Thursday had a strong political bent. Nation In Distress, which claimed to be the early Trump supporter, recently shared a link to a story that had called Rep. Maxine Waters “demented.” Founded in 2012, it had amassed more than 3.2 million likes and over 3 million followers, as of Thursday morning, before it was taken down. The page linked in its “about” section to a website called “America’s Freedom Fighters,” which posted content and duplicated press releases that appeared to be written by others about violent crimes and gun rights – all alongside a sidebar of ads. An administrator for the site declined to comment.
On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Reverb Press posted attacks on President Trump and referred to Republicans as “cheating scumbags” to its over 700,000 followers. A second left-leaning page, Reasonable People Unite, posted a screenshot from a Twitter user who said, “Somewhere in America, a teenage girl is listening to her parents defend Brett Kavanaugh and she is thinking to herself, if something like that happens to me, I have nowhere to go.”
Administrators for these pages, as you might expect, have complained that they did nothing wrong. But their pages weren’t purged for posting misinformation: they were purged for violating Facebook’s policies around “inauthentic behavior,” which can include using fake accounts to administer pages. If there’s less misinformation on Facebook tomorrow than there was yesterday, it’s essentially due to a technicality.
Meanwhile, by the end of the day, Russia was again making headlines for its abuses of Facebook. The company said it had disabled “dozens” of accounts and profiles belonging to a Russian company known as SocialDataHub. And what did SocialDataHub do? According to Reuters, it scraped public and private data to provide “state services with the means to identify people by analyzing social media users’ photographs.” Perhaps there’s a benign explanation for what Russian state services hope to do with illicitly obtained Facebook data, but it’s hard to imagine what that might be. The company’s CEO, Artur Khachuyan, reportedly compared the firm’s work to that of Cambridge Analytica.
CNET got in touch with Khachuyan, who promised them that everything the company is doing is on the up-and-up. If you can make heads or tails out of any of this, let me know. (I can’t.)
“No one just downloaded Facebook profiles, especially the data of citizens of other countries, except Russia,” Khachuyan said. “In Russia, such work is permitted by federal law No. 152 (this is analogous to the GDPR).”
Khachuyan also said Fubutech, an affiliated business that works with governments, is developing scraping technology for government clients but doesn’t scrape the data itself. Finally, he said that he teaches journalism courses that include using scraped data. Though the classes are focused on using public data from governments, some students scraped social media data, a Social Data Hub representative said.
Just another day on the world’s biggest social network. There are 25 days until the midterm elections.

Democracy
Mark Warner Is Coming for Tech’s Too-Powerful
Google faces mounting pressure from Congress over Google+ privacy flaw
Why Am I Seeing This? Interesting Facebook Ads From Our Our Political Ad Collector
Egypt Sentences Actress Amal Fathy Under ‘Fake News’ Laws
Elsewhere
The top Facebook publishers of September 2018
Why LADbible is the most popular publisher on Facebook.
Hyperpartisan And Fake News Publishers Are Battling It Out Over Taylor Swift
Facebook's Dr. Freddy Abnousi wants doctors to have more patient data
Bumble Dating App Owner Considers IPO
How MTV Alumni Came to Rule Digital Media ($)
Square CFO Sarah Friar is leaving to become the CEO of Nextdoor
Oculus co-founder Luckey says, 'It wasn't my choice to leave' Facebook
The many annoying ways Google forced users onto Google+
Launches
Facebook Groups can now launch up to 250-person chat rooms
3D Photos Now Rolling out on Facebook and in VR
Takes
The Future of War Will Be ‘Liked’
Here’s a good little thread from a disinformation researcher about why authoritarian governments have an easier time with the internet than democracies. You can probably intuit most of it, but I found it useful to see Ovadya spell it out:
Aviv Ovadya
I've been thinking recently about what I call "ungovernable spaces".
Online environments like fully encrypted chat.
Places where everyone has full autonomy—where governance can even be *mathematically* impossible, or at least only possible at the boundaries.
9:32 AM - 10 Oct 2018
And finally ...
Jack Dorsey doesn't use a computer
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and domestic disinformation campaigns: casey@theverge.com.
Did you enjoy this issue?
If you don't want these updates anymore, please unsubscribe here
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here
Powered by Revue