Tech

Facebook uncovers a new plot to manipulate its users — and proves they'll always be a target

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Never gonna give you up.
Image: SAUL LOEB/getty

Here we go again.

Facebook on Tuesday announced that it had once again detected and removed a coordinated group of so-called “inauthentic” accounts working to influence the U.S. political landscape. Despite the lessons learned from the disastrous Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, these unnamed actors managed to use the social media platform to organize real-world events and gain hundreds of thousands of followers. 

And while Facebook has kicked the 32 suspicious pages and accounts off both Facebook and Instagram, this isn’t the end. More likely, the problem will never completely fade. Regardless of the effort put forth by Menlo Park engineers and security researchers, Facebook — with its 2 billion monthly users and powerful micro-targeting tools — will forever be too tempting of a target for those looking to, say, sway an election. 

Facebook appears to be one of best tools ever created for influencing people on a mass scale. This fact is lost neither on Madison Avenue nor Savushkina Street.

While the details of this latest influence campaign are still murky, Facebook seems to have learned a few things over the course of the last two years. Perhaps most importantly, it’s learned to take its responsibilities seriously. 

“We face determined, well-funded adversaries who will never give up and are constantly changing tactics,” reads the company’s blog post on the latest findings. “It’s an arms race, and we need to constantly improve, too. It’s why we’re investing heavily in more people and better technology to prevent bad actors misusing Facebook — as well as working much more closely with law enforcement and other tech companies to better understand the threats we face.”

A so-called inauthentic post.

A so-called inauthentic post.

Image: facebook

The company stopped short of saying that the Russian Internet Research Agency was behind this latest campaign. But as Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher explained, it looks like the group is. 

“As we’ve told law enforcement and Congress, we still don’t have firm evidence to say with certainty who’s behind this effort,” wrote Gleicher. “Some of the activity is consistent with what we saw from the IRA before and after the 2016 elections.”

And yes, a sampling of the now-banned Pages reveals a pattern we’re all now very much familiar with: encouraging division and attempting to incite real-world action

A Facebook event co-organized by, Resisters, one of the now-banned Pages.

A Facebook event co-organized by, Resisters, one of the now-banned Pages.

Image: facebook

The most popular of the now-banned Pages include Aztlan Warriors, Black Elevation, Mindful Being, and Resisters. According to Facebook, “more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of these [suspect] Pages.”

From the limited selection of content released by Facebook, these groups worked to generate discussion around hot-button issues such as opposing Donald Trump, colonialism, and black power. The more controversy, and subsequent shares, the better. The Black Lives Matter movement was likewise abused by Russian actors in 2016.   

The investigation — and effort to pinpoint who is behind the removed content — is ongoing. If and when it completes, that investigation will in all likelihood be replaced by another. It’s cheap and relatively easy to reach scores of people on Facebook. That’s the point, after all, and no bad actor is going to suddenly forget it.

The Silicon Valley darling will never stop being a target for those who wish to manipulate people. It’s a reality we’re all just going to have to get used to. Facebook, which takes every opportunity it can to remind you that it’s “investing heavily” in combating this form of abuse, already has.  

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