Thu, Aug 02, 2018 - Page 7 News List

‘Sophisticated’ bid to disrupt polls: Facebook

AP, NEW YORK

This combination of images provided by Facebook shows examples from suspicious accounts the social networking site discovered on its platform that it says are possibly linked to Russia with the intention of influencing US politics.

Photo: AP / Facebook

Facebook on Tuesday elevated concerns about election interference, announcing that it had uncovered “sophisticated” efforts, possibly linked to Russia, to manipulate US politics and by extension the upcoming midterm elections.

The company was careful to hedge its announcement; it did not link the effort directly to Russia or to the midterms, now less than 100 days away.

Its findings were limited to 32 apparently fake accounts on Facebook and Instagram, which the company removed because they were involved in “coordinated” and “inauthentic” political behavior.

However, official Washington connected those dots anyway, not least because the reported activity so closely mirrored Russian influence campaigns during the 2016 presidential election.

Nearly 300,000 people followed at least one of the newly banned accounts and thousands expressed interest in events they promoted.

“This is an absolute attack on our democracy,” said Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which Facebook had briefed in advance.

Warner expressed “pretty high confidence” that Russia was behind the assault.

A spokesman for Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said Facebook had informed his office that “that a limited group of Russian actors has attempted to spread disinformation using its platform and that the affected groups are affiliated with the political left.”

The identified accounts sought to “promote divisions and set Americans against one another,” wrote Ben Nimmo and Graham Brookie of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab in a blog post on Tuesday.

The nonprofit is working with Facebook to find and analyze abuse on its service.

The perpetrators, Facebook said, have been “more careful to cover their tracks” than in 2016, in part because of steps Facebook has taken to prevent abuse over the past year.

For example, they used virtual private networks and Internet phone services to mask their locations, and paid third parties to run ads on their behalf.

Since it became evident that Russia-linked actors used social media to try to influence the 2016 US election, Facebook has escalated countermeasures intended to prevent a repeat. It has cracked down on fake accounts and tried to slow the spread of fake news and misinformation through outside fact-checkers.

It has also announced new guidelines around political advertisements, requiring disclosure of who paid for them.

While Facebook would not say who is behind the efforts, it said it uncovered links between the accounts it just deleted and those created by Russia’s Internet Research Agency in the 2016 influence effort.

For example, the Atlantic Council’s researchers found “language patterns that indicate non-native English and consistent mistranslation, as well as an overwhelming focus on polarizing issues.”

The accounts seemed focused on building up an online audience and moving it to offline events, such as protests.

The earliest page was created in March last year.

Facebook says more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the fake pages. The most followed Facebook pages had names such as “Aztlan Warriors,” “Black Elevation,” “Mindful Being” and “Resisters.”

Facebook did not provide detailed descriptions of those pages, but their names parallel those of 2016 groups established by Russian agents to manipulate Americans with particular ethnic, cultural or political identities. That effort targeted people with both liberal and conservative leanings.

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