While 2020 is gearing up to be a historic election, the upcoming races will also place big tech companies under scrutiny as the country watches their response to foreign meddling in the 2016 election. The biggest one in the crosshairs is, of course, Facebook.
As Mark Zuckerberg continues to make dubious comments and break bread with right wing pundits like Tucker Carlson, Facebook is doing everything in its power to earn some positive press before things really heat up. Yesterday, Facebook triumphantly announced that it had discovered and removed multiple Instagram and Facebook accounts that appeared to have ties with the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Russian troll farm that allegedly interfered with the 2016 presidential election.
Russian (And Iranian) Trolls 2: Electric Boogaloo
CNN reports that since the beginning of the year, accounts that appear to be linked to the IRA have slowly grown in number. Facebook found 50 Instagram troll accounts that originated from Russia along with one Facebook page. The accounts largely adopted tactics used by the IRA in 2016 where they appeared to represent people from across the political spectrum while targeting one opponent. In 2016, it was Hillary Clinton, and this new rash of accounts have targeted Joe Biden.
The accounts would follow and like each other’s posts and comments to make it seem like legitimate engagement. They would also use old memes and repurposed content as posts and masqueraded under names like @black.queen.chloe and @michigan_black_community_, an attempt at looking like black activists.
Other accounts chose different broad-stroke identities, posing as LGBTQ and feminist activists. The accounts sent approximately 75,000 posts and posted not only about the 2020 election but also focused on general American social issues. Facebook reports that the accounts had accrued over 250,000 followers put together before removal. The company also said that the accounts went to lengths to conceal their identities and locations. Facebook reported that they also discovered and removed 93 Facebook accounts, 17 Pages, and four Instagrams that originated in Iran. These accounts focused on the U.S. and posted about geopolitics and local news.
“We applaud Facebook for disclosing the existence of these fake accounts and shutting them down,” said TJ Ducklo, the Biden campaign’s national press secretary. “Unfortunately, like the Kremlin, Donald Trump continues to benefit from spreading false information, [and] all the while Facebook profits from amplifying his lies and debunked conspiracy theories on their platform.”
Facebook Rolls Out New Tools
Facebook didn’t stop at Russian troll hunting, though. The company also announced that it was rolling out a new set of tools to help prevent election interference. These new tools include the launch of Facebook Protect. The feature provides candidates, elected officials, departments and agencies, and staff with added protection around election season. This includes two-factor identification and additional monitoring by Facebook.
Facebook will now also label publishers that are under the editorial control of their government as “state-controlled media” and will also roll out a tool that allows users to see how much a candidate is spending on ads on Facebook in particular areas.
Finally, Facebook will also prominently label content and posts that have been rated as false by a third-party fact-checker. The labeled posts will include a link out to the fact-checker that explains why they labeled the post as such. Facebook will also introduce pop-ups on Instagram that will appear when someone tries to share material that fact-checkers labeled as false.