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Facebook expands fake news initiative to crack down on state-led abuse

The social network has taken down 30,000 fake accounts during the French election.

Jan 27, 2021, 7:40 pm*

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Phillip Tracy

We’ve heard a lot in recently months about Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news, a phenomenon that gained prominence following the 2016 U.S. presidental election. But the social media site has now outlined a problem on its platform even more consequential: Governments around the world are using stealthy methods to manipulate civic discourse and sway political opinion.

“Through the adept use of social media, information operators may attempt to distort public discourse, recruit supporters and financiers, or affect political or military outcomes,” according to a report Facebook published earlier today.

The social network calls it “information operations,” which it claims is a more insidious form of misuse on its platform than account hacking, malware, spam, or financial scams. There are three main methods of information operations used by governments, and Facebook already has plans to take care of two of them.

The first is targeted data collection—when a government has the goal of stealing and exposing non-public information about someone to achieve their desired results. It can be used against anyone, including companies, government agencies, nonprofits, media outlets, and individuals. Facebook says the most prominent practice is phishing with malware to infect someone’s computer and steal information from their affiliated organizations.

To keep accounts safe from these attacks, the social media giant says it will add multiple options for two-factor authentication and send notifications to people it thinks are being targeted or may soon become victims. In extreme cases, it will work with government bodies to educate people who are at risk.

False amplification is the second feature of operation information that Facebook is cracking down on. The 13-page report defines this method as creating large numbers of fake accounts to gain political influence on social media channels to drown out communication and deter people from engaging. If you notice a number of sketchy accounts posting the same things and blowing up your feed, you’re probably looking at false amplification. Facebook is using machine learning to detect repeated posting, and claims to have already taken down 30,000 fake accounts around the French election.

At this point, you might be wondering what Facebook found out about the 2016 U.S. election, particularly the supposed Russian hacking. The social network didn’t explicitly call out Russia, but did say its “data does not contradict the attribution provided by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence in the report dated January 6, 2017.”

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*First Published: Apr 27, 2017, 6:34 pm