Did You Like or Follow Fake Accounts on Facebook?
By Tracey Dowdy
It’s no longer a question whether or not Russian hackers influenced the 2016 Presidential Election. The motives and scope of the influence may be up for debate, but its presence on social media is a fact. Facebook in particular, was targeted, with fake Russian accounts purchasing over $100,000 in political ads.
To its credit, Facebook has posted a tool in their Help Center to help users determine if a page they have “liked” is connected to a fake news site. According to the site, Facebook is taking action to be more transparent about the foreign interference in the 2016 US Elections. “We’ve taken down fake accounts and Pages by the Internet Research Agency and have shared this information with Congress.”
If it turns out you liked or followed one of the identified fake accounts, don’t feel bad – you are not alone. Over 140 million people are estimated to have viewed Russia-linked propaganda during the 2016 election. Even if you didn’t like a page, you likely saw one of the 3,000-plus ads posted on Facebook that have since been tied to Russian accounts. The ads, which ran between June 2015 and May 2017, were linked to approximately 470 fake accounts which Facebook assures us have since been shut down.
Reportedly, a Russian company, The Internet Research Agency, known for trolling comments on social media and news sites, is behind these fake accounts. Back in September, Facebook staff members addressed the Senate and House intelligence committees investigating the Russian intervention in the presidential election. In a blog post, Facebook’s Chief Security Officer, Alex Stamos, stated that Facebook is also cooperating with investigators for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel appointed to investigate Russian tampering in the 2016 election. “We have shared our findings with U.S. authorities investigating these issues, and we will continue to work with them as necessary.”
Foreign interference has not been limited to the American election. Facebook has also reopened an investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere in the United Kingdom’s 2016 referendum on continuing membership of the European Union, promising to look for accounts linked to Russia that have not previously been reported on.
“We have considered your request and can confirm that our investigatory team is now looking to see if we can identify other similar clusters engaged in coordinated activity around the Brexit referendum that was not identified previously,” says Facebook’s UK policy director, Simon Milner.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.