A new Facebook report says its platform has been taken advantage of by governments, in an effort to manipulate public opinion abroad, during elections in the US and France. The company pledged to intervene to stop these “information operations.”
In a paper published Thursday, Facebook’s security team described subtle techniques used by national governments and other groups to spread misinformation in an effort to further geopolitical objectives. Beyond the much publicized “fake news” phenomenon, the paper said the operations included the use of fake accounts to seed content, collect data, amplify certain viewpoints, build distrust in institutions, and to sow confusion.
“We have had to expand our security focus from traditional abusive behavior, such as account hacking, malware, spam and financial scams, to include more subtle and insidious forms of misuse, including attempts to manipulate civic discourse and deceive people,” Facebook said.
The company suspended 30,00 accounts in France ahead of their presidential election, saying the priority was to remove suspected accounts with the largest audience and the most posting activity.
Facebook also said it had monitored “several situations” that appeared to be information operations during the US presidential election last year. They said they had found “malicious actors” using the platform to spread stolen information such as emails, “with the intent of harming the reputation of specific political targets.” This involved the creation of websites dedicated to hosting stolen data, and using these social media accounts to spread the information. Meanwhile, other malicious actors used fake accounts to spread particular narratives and themes from the stolen data. Though the company declined to discuss what stolen data they were referring to, tens of thousands of emails were hacked from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account, and were subsequently released by Wikileaks.
The Facebook report stopped short of naming a specific nation state responsible for the manipulation, but it said their investigation “does not contradict” a January report from US Director of National Intelligence that described Russian interference in the election.
Russia has also been found to have hacked French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, according to a report published this week by researchers with a Japanese anti-virus firm.
The Facebook report added:
“We recognize that, in today’s information environment, social media plays a sizable role in facilitating communications – not only in times of civic events, such as elections, but in everyday expression. In some circumstances, however, we recognize that the risk of malicious actors seeking to use Facebook to mislead people or otherwise promote inauthentic communications can be higher.”