“Security isn’t a problem you ever fully solve.”
Last night (UK time), Mark Zuckerberg issued a Facebook post detailing the measures the platform’s taking to stamp out electoral manipulation.
On the first read, it makes for a worrying ‘Wizard of Oz’ reveal into the realities of what we had already guessed. And this is nothing new – media manipulation for political and individual gain throughout history, be it through propagandising, hoaxing of psychological warfare.
But to blame social media, and namely, Facebook, is an easy get-out (and it could be argued an easy way for the press to divert attention from its own practices?). One only has to look at the recent Sinclair Broadcast Group scripted messaging to see how far propaganda goes.
What this truly highlights is the new technology and data war that’s being fought. This is a still a new world and one that evolves – and as Zuckerberg says, “Security isn’t a problem you ever fully solve”.
I believe Zuckerberg and Facebook are doing all they can in order to stop this problem spreading – even if it is a case of ‘after the horse has bolted’.
Here’s Zuckerberg’s statement in full:
Today we’re taking an important step to protect the integrity of elections around the world by taking down more than 270 pages and accounts operated by a Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency (IRA). Most of our actions against the IRA to date have been to prevent them from interfering in foreign elections. This update is about taking down their pages targeting people living in Russia. This Russian agency has repeatedly acted deceptively and tried to manipulate people in the US, Europe, and Russia — and we don’t want them on Facebook anywhere in the world.
Here’s more background on our efforts to protect the integrity of elections:
After 2016, we found that the Russian IRA had set up a network of hundreds of fake accounts to spread divisive content and interfere in the US presidential election. We began investigating their activity globally and taking down their pages and accounts.
Since then, we have improved our techniques to prevent nation states from interfering in foreign elections, and we’ve built more advanced AI tools to remove fake accounts more generally. There have been a number of important elections since then where these new tools have been successfully deployed. For example:
In France, leading up to the presidential election in 2017, we found and took down 30,000 fake accounts.
In Germany, before the 2017 elections, we worked directly with the Federal Office for Information Security to learn from them about the threats they saw and to share information.
In the US Senate Alabama special election last year, we deployed new AI tools that proactively detected and removed fake accounts from Macedonia trying to spread misinformation.
We have also significantly increased our investment in security. We now have about 15,000 people working on security and content review. We’ll have more than 20,000 by the end of this year.
These efforts have all made it harder for nation states to interfere in foreign elections. With today’s update, we have now identified a large network the IRA is using to manipulate people in Russia itself. This is the next step towards removing them from Facebook entirely.
We’ve found the IRA has been using complex networks of fake accounts to deceive people. While we respect people and governments sharing political views on Facebook, we do not allow them to set up fake accounts to do this. When an organization does this repeatedly, we take down all of their pages, including ones that may not be fake themselves. The pages and accounts we took down today were removed because they were controlled by the IRA, not based on the content they shared.
This particular set of pages and accounts was used to target people in Russia and people speaking Russian in neighboring countries like Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine. In this case, some of the pages we removed belong to Russian news organizations that we determined were controlled by the IRA. About one million people followed at least one of their Facebook pages and about 500,000 followed at least one of their Instagram accounts. In the next few weeks, we’ll release a tool so you can check if you liked or followed an IRA-controlled account.
Security isn’t a problem you ever fully solve. Organizations like the IRA are sophisticated adversaries who are constantly evolving, but we’ll keep improving our techniques to stay ahead — especially when it comes to protecting the integrity of elections.
“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” – George Orwell, 1984.