Fake Social Media Accounts Have Far Reaching Influence
There now is no question that Russian operatives spent years promoting social media ads and posts that created a divisive environment ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and have continued to stir the pot afterward.
Now that the light’s been shined on them, though, action is being taken to ensure these actions don’t continue.
Facebook alone has identified a Russian-led group consisting of eight pages and 17 profiles that are actively violating the platform’s ban on “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Those pages and profiles were followed by over 290,000 accounts and ran 150 ads, spending over $11k between Facebook and Instagram.
Can You Spot the Fake Facebook Post?
The most alarming part of these ingenuine accounts and posts is how much they resemble the real deal.
Pages with names like “Black Elevation,” “Mindful Being” and “ReSisters” are among the fake accounts that stoked the flames of contention. Many of these Russian-backed pages employed strategies to gradually radicalize people on both the left and the right.
In the beginning, the page would offer up generic fare, stuff you see every day like memes about being your better self. Once the page had enough followers it would dial up the pressure, throwing out memes that included radical messages that would appeal to a specific group of targeted people.
The New York Times even created a tool to show which ads were most likely targeted to your demographic. For example, if you’re a 38-year-old person living in Texas and interested in “liberalism,” the tool predicts that there were seven specific ads you may have seen. Four are for events in various parts of the country, the other three are linked to stories.
Fake Pages and Real Events
Some of the fake Facebook accounts went well beyond just creating Facebook posts.
The page Black Elevation actually convinced members to hold rallies in real cities in real life. For example, a rally promoted by Black Elevation to remember Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, spawned three others in New York, Atlanta and Memphis.
The page also promoted a post seeking an events coordinator, which was never hired to anyone’s knowledge. It was liked more than 1,000 times and shared 300 times. The New York Times spoke with a student that applied for the job, who recalled being interviewed over the Messenger app. The interviewer, he said, made lots of spelling errors and never followed-up.
Some suspect this was an attempt by those behind Black Elevation to recruit real people for a more legitimate front that would allow the group even greater access to both passionate activists and those who would fall within the targeted demographic.