Have you been fooled by Russian Facebook propaganda?

Posted on November 24, 2017

 

Following Facebook’s recent admission that 126 million people have been subject to social media propaganda from the Kremlin, the site has revealed that it will be creating a page that will show users the phoney accounts they may have liked or followed.

Particularly in the U.S., many lawmakers have suggested that Russian-linked content appeared on Facebook and other social media sites in the run-up to the U.S. Presidential Election, and that it may have contributed towards Donald Trump’s election. Some sources have claimed that states like Wisconsin and Michigan – two of the six states that saw big increases in Republican votes last year – were specifically targeted by the divisive posts.

Facebook has been accused by some quarters of being secretive about the whole affair. In an article last month, Business Insider senior correspondent Steve Kovach suggests that the site has repeatedly changed its reasons for not revealing the information, with excuses ranging from federal law to FBI investigations.

It seems that finally, Facebook is now caving in to the demands to play ball. In a statement on Wednesday titled ‘Continuing Transparency on Russian Activity’, the social media site announced the introduction of a portal that shows people any dubious Russian-linked Facebook or Instagram accounts with which they may have interacted in the period from January 2015 to August 2017. It says the accounts “tried to sow division and mistrust” and it is important for people to know about them, hence the portal will be introduced by the end of the year.

Is this good enough?

While this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction from Facebook in terms of offering transparency and shoring up its defences against future propaganda attempts, some observers have accused the site of only doing the bare minimum.

For a start, it is likely that users will have to see a story on their timeline directing them to the tool. With hundreds of millions of people affected by the posts in question, it’s possible that only a fraction of them will ever see the portal.

Also, a mock-up of the tool suggests that users will only see the accounts in question, not the individual posts they liked, shared or otherwise interacted with.

Facebook says it has now deactivated these propaganda accounts, but questions remain over how well-equipped it is to deal with future attempts at political misdirection. Russia, in particular, is notorious for using social media accounts to manipulate public opinion, often with automated accounts. In fact, a report released in June revealed that 45% of political Russian-based Twitter accounts were controlled by bots rather than humans.

In any case, Facebook’s new tool is sure to leave some users red-faced, whether with rage or embarrassment.

John Murray

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.

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