In the period after the conclusion of the 2016 U.S. election which saw President Donald Trump take the famous Oval Office, there was plenty of talk about Russian interference, as well as the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal which implicated Facebook.
Although some wrongdoings were admitted, nothing concrete was summarily discovered and the world has since moved on from that, especially as it is yet another election season and the coronavirus pandemic has everyone’s hands full.
Well, another U.S. election is due by the end of this year and it seems the Russians are it again, which wouldn’t exactly be big news except for the fact that they seem to have switched tactics and are getting help from some entities in African countries like Nigeria and Ghana.
According to reports, Facebook says it has removed 49 accounts, 69 Pages and 85 Instagram accounts for engaging in foreign interference. The accounts are reportedly run on behalf of a foreign actor on Facebook, Instagram, and other internet platforms.
The Head of Security Policy at Facebook, Nathaniel Gleicher, in a statement explained that the network was in the early stages of building an audience and was operated by local nationals in Nigeria and Ghana on behalf of individuals in Russia. He added that the network targeted primarily the United States.
He explained that the people behind this network engaged in a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake accounts — some of which had already been disabled by Facebook’s automated systems.
Gleicher added that those involved used the fake accounts to manage Pages posing as non-government organizations or personal blogs, and post in groups.
He added: “They frequently posted about the US news and attempted to grow their audience by focusing on topics such as black history, black excellence and fashion, celebrity gossip, news and events related to famous Americans including historical figures and celebrities and the LGBTQ issues.
“This activity did not appear to focus on elections or promote or denigrate political candidates. They also shared content about oppression and injustice, including police brutality.
“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their purpose and coordination, our investigation found links to EBLA, an NGO in Ghana, and individuals associated with past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency.”
He also said: “We detected this network as a result of our internal investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behaviour ahead of the US elections. The network was linked to the activity we had previously removed and attributed to the IRA in April 2018, July 2018 and November 2018.“
The Facebook Security Chief also revealed that the assessment and discoveries benefitted a collaboration with a team of journalists at CNN.
Gleicher said information had been shared with industry peers, policymakers and law enforcement agents, and Facebook would continue to work with others to find and remove this kind of behaviour from its platform.
He said about 13,500 accounts followed one or more of these pages and around 265,000 people followed one or more of these Instagram accounts (about 65 percent of which were in the US).
The security expert explained that the perpetrators had spent less than USD 5.00 on ads focused on people in the US, none of which was political or issue ad.
He explained that Facebook systems repeatedly rejected attempts by this network to run issue or political ads in the US because the people behind it were not authorized to run political ads in the US.
On the whole, he said the tech company identified approximately USD 379.00 in spending for ads on Facebook and Instagram paid for in US dollars, the majority of which were run before this operation began by people who knowingly or unknowingly joined this network in the second half of 2019.
Gleicher added, “We’re constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people.
“We’re taking down these Pages and accounts because this activity was linked to individuals associated with the IRA, an entity we had previously banned from Facebook.
“They also used fake accounts and coordinated with one another and to mislead people about what they were doing. That behaviour was the basis for our action, not the content they posted.”
Gleicher concluded by reiterating Facebook’s commitment to rooting out abuse and continually improving to remain proactive against mischief on its platform.
Featured Image Courtesy: PC Tech Mag