US a top target for influence ops – Facebook

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The US tops a list of countries most frequently targeted by deceptive foreign influence operations using Facebook between 2017 and 2020, the social media company said in a new report.

It came second on a list of countries targeted by domestic influence operations in the same time period. Facebook said a top source of co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour networks targeting the US in the year leading up to the 2020 presidential election was domestic campaigns originating in the US and foreign operations from Russia and Iran.

The tallies were based on “co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour” networks removed by Facebook, a term it uses for influence operations relying on fake accounts to mislead users and manipulate the public debate for strategic ends.

Facebook began cracking down on influence operations after 2016, when US intelligence concluded Russia used the platform as part of a cyber-influence campaign to help former President Donald Trump win the White House, a claim Moscow denied.

The company said Russia, followed by Iran, topped the list for sources of co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour and this was mostly rooted in foreign interference. Top targets of foreign operations included Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Libya and Sudan.

The company said about half the influence operations it removed since 2017 around the world were conducted by domestic, not foreign, networks.

“IO [influence operations] really started out as an elite sport. We had a small group of nation states in particular using these techniques. More and more we’re seeing more people getting into the game,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, told reporters.

Facebook said domestic influence operations targeting the US were operated by conspiratorial or fringe political actors, PR or consulting firms and media websites.

Myanmar was the country targeted by most domestic inauthentic networks, according to Facebook’s count, though these networks were relatively small in size.

Gleicher said threat actors pivoted from large, high-volume campaigns to smaller, more targeted ones and the platform was seeing a rise in commercial influence operations.

“I think the majority of what we’re seeing, these aren’t actors motivated by politics. In terms of volume, a lot is actors motivated by money,” he said. “They’re scammers, they’re fraudsters, they’re PR or marketing firms looking to make a business around deception.”

Facebook investigators said they expected it would become harder to discern what was part of a deceptive influence campaign as threat actors increasingly use “witting and unwitting people to blur the lines between authentic domestic discourse and manipulation.”

The report included more than 150 co-ordinated inauthentic networks identified and removed by Facebook since 2017.