Facebook was ‘perfect petri dish’ for Russian influence campaign says venture capitalist and early investor

ABC News reports: Earlier this month, Facebook revealed that it sold more than $100,000 worth of political ads to fake accounts the company told Congressional investigators were linked to the Russian government. Under mounting pressure, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg went public last week to decry the deception and pledge to work with Congress to “make it much harder” for foreign governments to exploit social media to interfere with elections.

“We are in a new world,” Zuckerberg said. “It is a new challenge for internet communities to deal with nation-states attempting to subvert elections. But if that’s what we must do, we are committed to rising to the occasion.”

At the root of the challenge are so-called “troll farms” where workers sit in rows of tables and create online profiles that push divisive messages, all aimed at sowing discord. Facebook told Congressional investigators about one operation that was especially busy during the 2016 campaign, a St. Petersburg-based firm called the Internet Research Agency.

In an interview with ABC News, Lyudmila Savchuk, who worked for the company in 2015 to expose what the factory was doing, described how young Russians posed as Americans, working 12 hour shifts at the company’s headquarters posting comments on American political issues selected by their bosses. Facebook, she said, was one of their primary platforms.

“Troll factory is a very appropriate name for it because it really is a large-scale production that works around the clock, and they don’t take time off for holidays, lunch nor sleep,” she said. “A huge quantity of content is being produced.”

Facebook’s chief security officer Alex Stamos said most of the posts generated there did not mention a specific presidential candidate or the election, but focused on “amplifying divisive social and political messages” on immigration, gun rights and LGBT issues.

Roger McNamee, a venture capitalist and early investor in Facebook, told ABC News the Russian effort may have started as merely an attempt to sow discontent, but as the campaign unfolded, he said it became clear the effort grew increasingly focused.

“Classic Russian intelligence techniques of taking the most extreme voices and amplifying them,” he said. “It was the perfect petri dish for this kind of campaign.” [Continue reading…]

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