Facebook admits: governments exploited us to spread propaganda

  • Company will step up security to clamp down on ‘information operations’
  • Facebook suspended 30,000 accounts in France before presidential election

Facebook has publicly acknowledged that its platform has been exploited by governments seeking to manipulate public opinion in other countries – including during the presidential elections in the US and France – and pledged to clamp down on such “information operations”.

In a white paper authored by the company’s security team and published on Thursday, the company detailed well-funded and subtle techniques used by nations and other organizations to spread misleading information and falsehoods for geopolitical goals. These efforts go well beyond “fake news”, the company said, and include content seeding, targeted data collection and fake accounts that are used to amplify one particular view, sow distrust in political institutions and spread 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,” said the company.

In its effort to clamp down on information operations, Facebook suspended 30,000 accounts in France before the presidential election. The company said it was a priority to remove suspect accounts with high volumes of posting activity and the biggest audiences.

The company also explained how it monitored “several situations” that fit the pattern of information operations during the US presidential election. The company detected “malicious actors” using social media to share information stolen from other sources such as email accounts “with the intent of harming the reputation of specific political targets”. This technique involved creating dedicated websites to host the stolen data and then creating social media accounts and pages to direct people to it.

At the same time, a separate set of malicious actors created fake Facebook accounts to falsely amplify narratives and themes related to topics exposed in the stolen data.

Facebook did not specify which stolen data it was referring to, but we know that tens of thousands of emails were hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s Gmail account and released by Wikileaks.

Nor did Facebook attribute the manipulation to any nation state, although it said that the company’s investigation “does not contradict” the findings of a January report by the US Director of National Intelligence that outlined Russian involvement in the election.

Russia has also been implicated in the hacking of French presidential frontrunner, Emmanuel Macron, according to a report by researchers with Japanese anti-virus firm Trend Micro, published this week.

Facebook pledged to monitor attempts to manipulate the platform, to develop new ways of identifying fake accounts, educate at-risk people about how to keep their information safe, and support civil society programs around media literacy.

“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,” said the report. “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.”


Olivia Solon

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Facebook Watch takes on YouTube and TV with revamped video offering
The new feature, Watch, lets users discover videos from outside their feed more easily, and will also dabble in original content

Olivia Solon in San Francisco

10, Aug, 2017 @1:44 AM

Article image
Facebook staff mount secret push to tackle fake news, reports say
Employees allegedly formed a task force to tackle the problem, while others say executives are reviewing products to eliminate appearance of political bias

Olivia Solon in San Francisco

15, Nov, 2016 @1:29 AM

Article image
Facebook fact-check: from Hillary's health to 9/11, the latest lies we read
In a new column, we find the bogus stories, clickbait and disinformation framed as legitimate ‘trending’ news by one of the most powerful companies on Earth

Alan Yuhas in San Francisco

09, Sep, 2016 @8:36 PM

Article image
Dallas, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile: should Facebook show violent videos?
Facebook’s live streaming video allows people to broadcast life – and death – for the world to see, raising a new and complex set of ethical questions

Moira Weigel in San Francisco

08, Jul, 2016 @7:12 PM

Article image
Facebook wants to stop clickbait. (And you won't believe how they're doing it)
Facebook has stepped up its battle against much-reviled (but effective) ‘clickbait’ headlines in its newsfeed with an algorithm that weeds out the most misleading

Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco

04, Aug, 2016 @7:16 PM

Article image
Facebook’s failure: did fake news and polarized politics get Trump elected?
The company is being accused of abdicating its responsibility to clamp down on fake news stories and counter the echo chamber that defined this election

Olivia Solon in San Francisco

10, Nov, 2016 @10:59 PM

Article image
Obama is worried about fake news on social media – and we should be too
The outgoing US president has lamented an age where ‘active misinformation’ can spread as quickly and easily as the truth. And he is not exaggerating

Nicky Woolf in San Francisco

20, Nov, 2016 @1:50 PM

Article image
How Facebook plans to take over the world
Social network went from digital directory for college kids to communications behemoth – and it’s planning for prosperity with its global takeover

Olivia Solon in San Francisco

23, Apr, 2016 @11:00 AM

Article image
Facebook admits it poses mental health risk – but says using site more can help
Company acknowledges ‘passive’ consumption of material can make people ‘feel worse’ but argues more engagement could improve wellbeing

Sam Levin in San Francisco

15, Dec, 2017 @8:33 PM

Article image
Facebook is worried about users sharing less – but it only has itself to blame
Its business model relies on users sharing personal data instead of cat videos, but that is happening less and less – and it’s a devil of Facebook’s own making

Anna Lauren Hoffmann Oakland, California

19, Apr, 2016 @11:00 AM