Facebook has published an operational update looking closely at questions regarding Russian interference in the 2016 US electoral process. In particular it has discovered and closed down approx 470 ‘fake’ Facebook accounts which were used to spend approx $100,000 on advertising between June 2015 and May 2017. These adverts didn’t often overtly support a particular political party or candidate but “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights,” says Facebook.
Beyond the headline $100,000 spent on ads by the 470 fake accounts, to stir up division and hate, Facebook thinks that it has discovered a further $50,000 spent on similar activity. It more deeply analysed its data to look at “for instance, ads bought from accounts with US IP addresses but with the language set to Russian — even though they didn’t necessarily violate any policy or law”. That $50,000 was spread over 2,200 politically divisive ads.
Misuse of its platform to spread misinformation, fake news, and amplifying divisive social and political messages is something that Facebook is working against. Earlier this year it announced technology improvements for detecting fake accounts and a series of actions to reduce misinformation and false news. In recent months it has acted against fake accounts in France and Germany. It will also soon disable advertising options for accounts with repeated fake news strikes. Looking forward, Facebook intends to be able to detect and stop the creation of inauthentic accounts – prevention is better than cure, folks.
Is the UK more affected by Twitter fakes?
Here in the UK I’ve read more about fake accounts on Twitter being used by ‘Russian Trolls’ for similar amplifications of divisive social and political messages. Of course this concerns activity around the issues of Brexit, so the UK-targeting ‘Russian’ agitators mainly push Tweets about immigration, refugees, and similar topics.
A particularly popular Brexit supporting Twitter account held by ‘David Jones’ is prolific in its support for; UKIP, Trump, Russia, Brexit and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. There are “thousands and thousands of other fake accounts,” doing similar work Keir Giles, an expert on Russian security at Chatham House, told The Independent.