Russians appear to use Facebook to push Trump rallies in 17 U.S. cities

The Daily Beast reports: Suspected Russia propagandists on Facebook tried to organize more than a dozen pro-Trump rallies in Florida during last year’s election, The Daily Beast has learned.

The demonstrations—at least one of which was promoted online by local pro-Trump activists— brought dozens of supporters together in real life. They appear to be the first case of Russian provocateurs successfully mobilizing Americans over Facebook in direct support of Donald Trump.

The Aug. 20, 2016, events were collectively called “Florida Goes Trump!” and they were billed as a “patriotic state-wide flash mob,” unfolding simultaneously in 17 different cities and towns in the battleground state. It’s difficult to determine how many of those locations actually witnessed any turnout, in part because Facebook’s recent deletion of hundreds of Russian accounts hid much of the evidence. But videos and photos from two of the locations—Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs—were reposted to a Facebook page run by the local Trump campaign chair, where they remain to this day. [Continue reading…]

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Meddling in Germany’s election by alt-right

USA Today reports: Less than a week before Sunday’s vote that is likely to hand German Chancellor Angela Merkel a fourth term, evidence of anticipated Russian meddling has yet to materialize, but U.S. right-wing groups have interfered, according to German researchers.

“So far we have not been able to track down any specific Russian activity,” said Simon Hegelich,” a professor of political science data at the Technical University of Munich who has advised the German government about the threat of hacking and fake news.

Instead, Hegelich and others point to an alliance of mostly anonymous online trolls and extremist agitators who are disseminating right-wing materials through YouTube; messaging board sites like 4chan and reddit; and Gab.ai, a texting service.

“A lot of the stuff we are seeing in Germany can be linked to, or is at least inspired by, the ‘alt-right’ movement in the U.S.,” Hegelich said, referring to a loosely defined group whose far-right ideology includes racism, populism and white nationalism.

He said proving connections among sympathizers is extremely difficult and may never be conclusive. But an analysis of 300 million tweets over the past six months by Hegelich and researchers at the Technical University of Munich shows Germany is a hotspot for posts that use the hashtag “#AltRight.” [Continue reading…]

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RT, Sputnik and Russia’s new theory of war

Jim Rutenberg reports: One morning in January 2016, Martin Steltner showed up at his office in the state courthouse building in western Berlin. Steltner, who has served for more than a dozen years as the spokesman for the Berlin state prosecutor, resembles a detective out of classic crime fiction: crisp suit, wavy gray hair and a gallows humor that comes with having seen it all. There was the 2009 case of the therapist who mistakenly killed two patients in an Ecstasy-infused session gone wrong. The Great Poker Heist of 2010, in which masked men stormed a celebrity-studded poker tournament with machetes and made off with a quarter-million dollars. The 2012 episode involving the Canadian porn star who killed and ate his boyfriend and then sent the leftovers home in the mail. Steltner embraced the oddball aspect of his job; he kept a picture of Elvis Presley on the wall of his office.

But even Steltner found the phone calls he received that morning confounding. They came from police officers from towns far outside Berlin, who reported that protests were erupting, seemingly out of nowhere, on their streets. “They are demonstrating — ‘Save our children,’ ‘No attacks from immigrants on our children’ and some things like that,” Steltner told me when I met him in Berlin recently.

The police were calling Steltner because this was ostensibly his office’s fault. The protesters were angry over the Berlin prosecutor’s supposed refusal to indict three Arab migrants who, they said, raped a 13-year-old girl from Berlin’s tight-knit Russian-German community.

Steltner, who would certainly have been informed if such a case had come up for prosecution, had heard nothing of it. He called the Berlin Police Department, which informed him that a 13-year-old Russian-German girl had indeed gone missing a week before. When she resurfaced a day later, she told her parents that three “Southern-looking men” — by which she meant Arab migrants — had yanked her off the street and taken her to a rundown apartment, where they beat and raped her.

But when the police interviewed the girl, whose name was Lisa, she changed her story. She had left home, it turned out, because she had gotten in trouble at school. Afraid of how her parents would react, she went to stay with a 19-year-old male friend. The kidnapping and gang rape, she admitted, never happened.

By then, however, the girl’s initial story was taking on a life of its own within the Russian-German community through word of mouth and Facebook — enough so that the police felt compelled to put out a statement debunking it. Then, over the weekend, Channel One, a Russian state-controlled news station with a large following among Russian-Germans, who watch it on YouTube and its website, ran a report presenting Lisa’s story as an example of the unchecked dangers Middle Eastern refugees posed to German citizens. Angela Merkel, it strongly implied, was refusing to address these threats, even as she opened German borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants. “According to Lisa’s parents,” the Channel One reporter said, “the police simply refuse to look for criminals.”

The following day in Berlin, Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party held a protest at a plaza in Marzahn, a heavily Russian neighborhood. The featured speaker was an adult cousin of Lisa’s, who repeated the original allegations while standing in front of signs reading “Stop Foreign Infiltration!” and “Secure Borders!” The crowd was tiny, not much more than a dozen people. But it was big enough to attract the attention of RT, Russia’s state-financed international cable network, which presents local-language newscasts in numerous countries, including Germany and the United States. A crew from the network’s video service, Ruptly, arrived with a camera. The footage was on YouTube that afternoon.

That same day, Sputnik, a brash Russian-government-run news and commentary site that models itself on BuzzFeed, ran a story raising allegations of a police cover-up. Lisa’s case was not isolated, Sputnik argued; other refugee rapists, it warned, might be running free. By the start of the following week, protests were breaking out in neighborhoods with large Russian-German populations, which is why the local police were calling Steltner. In multiple interviews, including with RT and Sputnik, Steltner reiterated that the girl had recanted the original story about the kidnapping and the gang rape. In one interview with the German media, he said that in the course of the investigation, authorities had found evidence that the girl had sex with a 23-year-old man months earlier, which would later lead to a sexual-abuse conviction for the man, whose sentence was suspended. But the original, unrelated and debunked story continued circulating, drawing the interest of the German mainstream media, which pointed out inconsistencies in the Russian reports. None of that stopped the protests, which culminated in a demonstration the following Saturday, Jan. 23, by 700 people outside the Chancellery, Merkel’s office. Ruptly covered that, too.

An official in the Merkel government told me that the administration was completely perplexed, at first. Then, a few days later, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, held a news conference in Moscow. Bringing up Lisa’s story, he cast doubt on the official version of events. There was no way, he argued, that Lisa left home voluntarily. Germany, he suggested, was “covering up reality in a politically correct manner for the sake of domestic politics.” Two days later, RT ran a segment reporting that despite all the official denials, the case was “not so simple.” The Russian Embassy called Steltner and asked to meet, he told me. The German foreign ministry informed him that this was now a diplomatic issue.

The whole affair suddenly appeared a lot less mystifying. A realization took hold in the foreign ministry, the intelligence services and the Chancellery: Germany had been hit. [Continue reading…]

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Trump shares GIF of himself striking Hillary Clinton in the back with a golf ball

The Washington Post reports: President Trump retweeted a meme on Sunday morning that showed him hitting Hillary Clinton in the back with a golf ball, prompting another round of outrage from critics who felt the president’s tweets had once again crossed the line.

The animated GIF spliced together a clip of Trump swinging a golf club with footage of Clinton falling, apparently edited to appear as though a golf ball had struck her down.

The image was originally posted as a reply to the president by a Twitter user named @Fuctupmind, whose bio consists of pro-Trump, anti-Clinton hashtags.


The retweet immediately drew hundreds of Trump’s critics and supporters into a familiar vortex of debate, with many criticizing the GIF for seeming to encourage violence and others defending the president.

“You’re a child. Beneath the dignity of your office. Grow up. Be a man,” the actor James Morrison replied to Trump.

“The man is unfit,” declared Walter M. Shaub Jr., the former director of the independent Office of Government Ethics who resigned in July after clashing with the White House. [Continue reading…]

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Facebook gave special counsel Robert Mueller more details on Russian ad buys than Congress

The Wall Street Journal reports: Facebook has handed over to special counsel Robert Mueller detailed records about the Russian ad purchases on its platform that go beyond what it shared with Congress last week, according to people familiar with the matter.

The information Facebook shared with Mr. Mueller included copies of the ads and details about the accounts that bought them and the targeting criteria they used, the people familiar with the matter said. Facebook policy dictates that it would only turn over “the stored contents of any account,” including messages and location information, in response to a search warrant, some of them said.

A search warrant from Mr. Mueller would mean the special counsel now has a powerful tool in his arsenal to probe the details of how social media was used as part of a campaign of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election. Facebook hasn’t shared the same information with Congress in part because of concerns about disrupting the Mueller probe, and possibly running afoul of U.S. privacy laws, people familiar with the matter said.

A Facebook spokesman said the company continues to investigate and is cooperating with U.S. authorities. A spokesman for Mr. Mueller declined to comment on the investigation.

Last week, Facebook disclosed that it identified about 500 “inauthentic” accounts with ties to Russia that bought $100,000 worth of ads during a two-year period encompassing the presidential campaign. The company also found $50,000 in ad purchases linked to Russian accounts. The combined funds purchased more than 5,000 ads on Facebook, the company said.

The disclosure was Facebook’s first acknowledgment that Russians used its platform to reach U.S. voters during the presidential campaign. It came about two months after Facebook said it had no evidence of Russian ad purchases. [Continue reading…]

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Did Jared Kushner’s data operations help select Facebook targets for the Russians?

Chris Smith writes: The headlines were about Facebook admitting it had sold ad space to Russian groups trying to sway the 2016 presidential campaign. But investigators shrugged: they’d known or assumed for months that Facebook, as well as Twitter and other social-media platforms, were a tool used in the Kremlin’s campaign. “The only thing that’s surprising is that more revelations like this haven’t come out sooner,” said Congressman Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat and a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “And I expect that more will.”

Mapping the full Russian propaganda effort is important. Yet investigators in the House, Senate, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office are equally focused on a more explosive question: did any Americans help target the memes and fake news to crucial swing districts and wavering voter demographics? “By Americans, you mean, like, the Trump campaign?” a source close to one of the investigations said with a dark laugh. Indeed: probers are intrigued by the role of Jared Kushner, the now-president’s son-in-law, who eagerly took credit for crafting the Trump campaign’s online efforts in a rare interview right after the 2016 election. “I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting,” Kushner told Steven Bertoni of Forbes. “We brought in Cambridge Analytica. I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley who were some of the best digital marketers in the world. And I asked them how to scale this stuff . . . We basically had to build a $400 million operation with 1,500 people operating in 50 states, in five months to then be taken apart. We started really from scratch.”

Kushner’s chat with Forbes has provided a veritable bakery’s worth of investigatory bread crumbs to follow. Brad Parscale, who Kushner hired to run the campaign’s San Antonio-based Internet operation, has agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee. [Continue reading…]

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Facebook’s offensive ad targeting options go far beyond ‘Jew haters’

Slate reports: ProPublica reported Thursday that it was able to use Facebook’s advertising platform to target users who had expressed interest in topics such as “Jew hater” and “German Schutzstaffel,” also known as the Nazi SS. And when ProPublica’s reporters were in the process of typing “Jew hater,” Facebook’s ad-targeting tool went so far as to recommend related topics such as “how to burn Jews” and “History of ‘why Jews ruin the world.’”

To make sure the categories were real, ProPublica tried to purchase three ads, or “promoted posts,” targeting those users. Facebook’s targeting tool initially wouldn’t place the ads—not because of anything wrong with the categories, but simply because the number of Facebook users interested in them was beneath its preprogrammed threshold. When ProPublica added a larger category to “Jew hater” and the others, however, Facebook’s ad tool reported that its audience selection was “great!” Within 15 minutes, the company’s ad system had approved all three ads.

Contacted about the anti-Semitic ad categories by ProPublica, Facebook removed them, explaining that they had been generated algorithmically. The company added that it would explore ways to prevent similarly offensive ad targeting categories from appearing in the future.

Yet when Slate tried something similar Thursday, our ad targeting “Kill Muslimic Radicals,” “Ku-Klux-Klan,” and more than a dozen other plainly hateful groups was similarly approved. In our case, it took Facebook’s system just one minute to give the green light. [Continue reading…]

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Facebook enabled advertisers to reach ‘Jew haters’

ProPublica reports: Want to market Nazi memorabilia, or recruit marchers for a far-right rally? Facebook’s self-service ad-buying platform had the right audience for you.

Until this week, when we asked Facebook about it, the world’s largest social network enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics of “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” or, “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’”

To test if these ad categories were real, we paid $30 to target those groups with three “promoted posts” — in which a ProPublica article or post was displayed in their news feeds. Facebook approved all three ads within 15 minutes.

After we contacted Facebook, it removed the anti-Semitic categories — which were created by an algorithm rather than by people — and said it would explore ways to fix the problem, such as limiting the number of categories available or scrutinizing them before they are displayed to buyers.

“There are times where content is surfaced on our platform that violates our standards,” said Rob Leathern, product management director at Facebook. “In this case, we’ve removed the associated targeting fields in question. We know we have more work to do, so we’re also building new guardrails in our product and review processes to prevent other issues like this from happening in the future.”

Facebook’s advertising has become a focus of national attention since it disclosed last week that it had discovered $100,000 worth of ads placed during the 2016 presidential election season by “inauthentic” accounts that appeared to be affiliated with Russia. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller probe has ‘red-hot’ focus on social media, officials say

Bloomberg reports: Russia’s effort to influence U.S. voters through Facebook and other social media is a “red-hot” focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election and possible links to President Donald Trump’s associates, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Mueller’s team of prosecutors and FBI agents is zeroing in on how Russia spread fake and damaging information through social media and is seeking additional evidence from companies like Facebook and Twitter about what happened on their networks, said one of the officials, who asked not to be identified discussing the ongoing investigation.

The ability of foreign nations to use social media to manipulate and influence elections and policy is increasingly seen as the soft underbelly of international espionage, another official said, because it doesn’t involve the theft of state secrets and the U.S. doesn’t have a ready defense to prevent such attacks.

Agencies including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are now examining what could be done to prevent similar interference and espionage in future elections, starting with the 2018 midterm congressional vote, the official said. At the same time, Russia is ramping up its hacking operations, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said. [Continue reading…]

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Russia used Facebook events to organize anti-immigrant rallies on U.S. soil

The Daily Beast reports: Russian operatives hiding behind false identities used Facebook’s event management tool to remotely organize and promote political protests in the U.S., including an August 2016 anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho, The Daily Beast has learned.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to the Daily Beast that the social-media giant “shut down several promoted events as part of the takedown we described last week.” The company declined to elaborate, except to confirm that the events were promoted with paid ads. (This is the first time the social media giant has publicly acknowledged the existence of such events.)

The Facebook events—one of which echoed Islamophobic conspiracy theories pushed by pro-Trump media outlets—are the first indication that the Kremlin’s attempts to shape America’s political discourse moved beyond fake news and led unwitting Americans into specific real-life action.

“This is the next step,” Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and expert on Russia’s influence campaign, told The Daily Beast. “The objective of influence is to create behavior change. The simplest behavior is to have someone disseminate propaganda that Russia created and seeded. The second part of behavior influence is when you can get people to physically do something.” [Continue reading…]

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White House social media director promoted fake news on Hurricane Irma

The Washington Post reports: President Trump’s social media director, Dan Scavino, spent most of Sunday sharing with the world videos of Hurricane Irma’s fury in Florida — of a spinning stop sign and streets becoming rivers.

He posted a photo of Trump and Vice President Pence in a briefing room, too: hands folded, faces somber as they studied the storm.

And in a late-afternoon tweet, Scavino wrote that he was regularly sharing his tweets with both men — offering as apparent example a video of Miami’s flooded airport: [Continue reading…]

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Facebook wins, democracy loses

Siva Vaidhyanathan writes: On Wednesday, Facebook revealed that hundreds of Russia-based accounts had run anti-Hillary Clinton ads precisely aimed at Facebook users whose demographic profiles implied a vulnerability to political propaganda. It will take time to prove whether the account owners had any relationship with the Russian government, but one thing is clear: Facebook has contributed to, and profited from, the erosion of democratic norms in the United States and elsewhere.

The audacity of a hostile foreign power trying to influence American voters rightly troubles us. But it should trouble us more that Facebook makes such manipulation so easy, and renders political ads exempt from the basic accountability and transparency that healthy democracy demands.

The majority of the Facebook ads did not directly mention a presidential candidate, according to Alex Stamos, head of security at Facebook, but “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from L.G.B.T. matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

The ads — about 3,000 placed by 470 accounts and pages spending about $100,000 — were what the advertising industry calls “dark posts,” seen only by a very specific audience, obscured by the flow of posts within a Facebook News Feed and ephemeral. Facebook calls its “dark post” service “unpublished page post ads.”

This should not surprise us. Anyone can deploy Facebook ads. They are affordable and easy. That’s one reason that Facebook has grown so quickly, taking in $27.6 billion in revenue in 2016, virtually all of it from advertisers, by serving up the attention of two billion Facebook users across the globe.

The service is popular among advertisers for its efficiency, effectiveness and responsiveness. Facebook gives rich and instant feedback to advertisers, allowing them to quickly tailor ads to improve outcomes or customize messages even more. There is nothing mysterious or untoward about the system itself, as long as it’s being used for commerce instead of politics. What’s alarming is that Facebook executives don’t seem to grasp, or appreciate, the difference. [Continue reading…]

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How Facebook changed the spy game

Asha Rangappa writes: Any doubt that Russia has been running a strategically targeted disinformation campaign in the United States was erased on Wednesday, when Facebook revealed that it had deleted 470 “inauthentic” accounts that were based in Russia and had paid $100,000 to promote divisive ads during the 2016 presidential election.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia called Facebook’s report the “tip of the iceberg,” and he’s right. As a former FBI counterintelligence agent who investigated foreign propaganda cases, I’ve seen firsthand how foreign intelligence services leverage American freedoms—and the constitutional limitations on the FBI’s investigative power—to their advantage. The rise of social media platforms makes the pervasiveness and impact of these operations today exponentially greater. And it leaves the FBI without the legal tools to stop it.

The vast majority of counterintelligence cases I worked in the FBI involved a foreign intelligence service (FIS) conducting what we called “perception management campaigns.” Perception management, broadly defined, includes any activity that is designed to shape American opinion and policy in ways favorable to the FIS home country. Some perception management operations can involve aggressive tactics like infiltrating and spying on dissident groups (and even intimidating them), or trying to directly influence U.S. policy by targeting politicians under the guise of a legitimate lobbying group. But perception management operations also include more passive tactics like using media to spread government propaganda—and these are the most difficult for the FBI to investigate. [Continue reading…]

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Russia’s Facebook fake news could have reached 70 million Americans

The Daily Beast reports: Russian-funded covert propaganda posts on Facebook were likely seen by a minimum of 23 million people and might have reached as many as 70 million, according to analysis by an expert on the social-media giant’s complex advertising systems. That means up to 28 percent of American adults were swept in by the campaign.

On Wednesday, Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, revealed that Russia had “likely” used 470 fake accounts to buy about $100,000 worth of advertising promoting “divisive social and political messages” to Americans. It was Facebook’s first public acknowledgment of the role it unwittingly played in the Kremlin’s “active measures” campaign. Stamos’ statement was also conspicuous by what it omitted: Facebook has refused to release the ads. More significant, it hasn’t said what kind of reach Russia attained with its ad buy.

There may be a reason for that. On the surface, $100,000 is small change in contemporary national politics, and 3,000 ads sounds like a drop in the pond when Facebook boasts 2 billion monthly users. But it turns out $100,000 on Facebook can go a surprisingly long way, if it’s used right. On average, Facebook ads run about $6 for 1,000 impressions. By that number, the Kremlin’s $100,000 buy would get its ads seen nearly 17 million times. [Continue reading…]

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Facebook’s role in Trump’s win is clear. No matter what Mark Zuckerberg says

Margaret Sullivan writes: What a ridiculous notion, Mark Zuckerberg scoffed shortly after the election, that his social-media company — innocent, well-intentioned Facebook — could have helped Donald Trump’s win.

“Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook . . . influenced the election in any way — I think is a pretty crazy idea,” he said. “Voters make decisions based on their lived experience.”

In fact, voters make their decisions based on many factors, not just their “lived experience.”

Disinformation spread on Facebook clearly was one — a big one. That was obvious in November. It was obvious in April when Facebook, to its credit, announced some moves to combat the spread of lies in the form of news stories.

It’s even more obvious now after Wednesday’s news that Facebook sold ads during the campaign to a Russian “troll farm,” targeting American voters with “divisive social and political messages” that fit right in with Donald Trump’s campaign strategy.

The news, reported Wednesday by The Washington Post, fits right in with the findings of a fascinating recent study by Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. Analyzing reams of data, it documented the huge role that propaganda, in various forms, played in the 2016 campaign. [Continue reading…]

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Facebook’s Russian ads disclosure is putting the company under intense new scrutiny

BuzzFeed reports: Facebook is facing a new push to reveal how its vast power is being used after it disclosed that roughly $100,000 worth of political ads were purchased on its platform by fake accounts and pages connected to a Russian troll operation. Open government advocates and researchers who study political ads told BuzzFeed News that Facebook’s massive reach and lack of transparency about ads on its platform represent a risk to the democratic process.

Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for government transparency, said highly targeted online ads can be “weaponized against liberal democracies” because they do not meet the same levels of disclosure and visibility as traditional radio, TV, and print ads.

“It removes our ability to have transparency into who is trying to influence our politics, and any accountability for that influence,” Howard said. “And it takes away from the capacity of the traditional organs of democracy — that being the press and regulators and other institutions — to figure out who is behind political messaging, particularly at crucial times.”

Facebook and other tech giants have largely steered clear of major regulation in the United States despite their huge role in society. But concerns about the manipulation of political advertising by foreign entities and other parties is likely to increase government and regulatory scrutiny. [Continue reading…]

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The fake Americans Russia created to influence the election

The New York Times reports: Sometimes an international offensive begins with a few shots that draw little notice. So it was last year when Melvin Redick of Harrisburg, Pa., a friendly-looking American with a backward baseball cap and a young daughter, posted on Facebook a link to a brand-new website.

“These guys show hidden truth about Hillary Clinton, George Soros and other leaders of the US,” he wrote on June 8, 2016. “Visit #DCLeaks website. It’s really interesting!”

Mr. Redick turned out to be a remarkably elusive character. No Melvin Redick appears in Pennsylvania records, and his photos seem to be borrowed from an unsuspecting Brazilian. But this fictional concoction has earned a small spot in history: The Redick posts that morning were among the first public signs of an unprecedented foreign intervention in American democracy.

The DCLeaks site had gone live a few days earlier, posting the first samples of material, stolen from prominent Americans by Russian hackers, that would reverberate through the presidential election campaign and into the Trump presidency. The site’s phony promoters were in the vanguard of a cyberarmy of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts, a legion of Russian-controlled impostors whose operations are still being unraveled. [Continue reading…]

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Facebook won’t allow its claims about the effectiveness of its fact-checking systems to be fact-checked

Politico reports: The fact-checkers enlisted by Facebook to help clear the site of “fake news” say the social media giant’s refusal to share information is hurting their efforts.

In December, Facebook promised to address the spread of misinformation on its platform, in part by working with outside fact-checking groups. But because the company has declined to share any internal data from the project, the fact-checkers say they have no way of determining whether the “disputed” tags they’re affixing to “fake news” articles slow — or perhaps even accelerate — the stories’ spread. They also say they’re lacking information that would allow them to prioritize the most important stories out of the hundreds possible to fact-check at any given moment.

Some fact-checkers are growing frustrated, saying the lack of information is undermining Facebook’s efforts to combat false news reports.

“I would say that the general lack of information — not only data — given by Facebook is a concern for a majority of publishers,” Adrien Sénécat, a journalist at Le Monde, one of the news organizations that has partnered with Facebook to fact-check stories, said in an emailed response.

Representatives from Facebook say that privacy concerns prevent them from sharing raw data with outsiders.

In the wake of November’s election, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg downplayed the amount of fake news on his platform and called it “a pretty crazy idea” that it could have influenced the election. But a month later, under pressure, the company announced a slew of efforts designed to combat the problem, including the arrangement with fact-checkers. “We’re committed to doing our part,” Facebook’s vice president for News Feed, Adam Mosseri, wrote. “We believe in giving people a voice and that we cannot become arbiters of truth ourselves, so we’re approaching this problem carefully.”

Mosseri has publicly characterized those efforts as effective. In April, he said in an address, “We’ve seen overall that false news has decreased on Facebook,” but the company did not provide proof of the claim. “It’s hard for us to measure,” Mosseri had added, “because we can’t read everything that gets posted.”

Sara Su, a product manager on Facebook’s News Feed team, told POLITICO that she believes the fact-check program is working: “We have seen data that, when a story is flagged by a third party fact-checker, it reduces the likelihood that somebody will share that story.” She declined, though, to provide any specific numbers.

Facebook does plan on eventually sharing more information with the fact-checking groups it works with, according to Su, though exactly how much and when is undetermined. “I wish I could give you dates, but we are committed to working with our fact-checking partners to continue to refine the tools to be more efficient,” she said.

For now, many fact-checkers are taking Facebook’s claims of success with the proverbial grain of salt. [Continue reading…]

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