A Russian internet outlet recruited thousands of fans for a fake news campaign designed to sow discord and sway the 2016 presidential election. It also recruited individuals to post fake images, viral video clips and automated messages on social media platforms. Election technology firms were not immune to the troll farms’ efforts. In 2017, the San Francisco-based technology company Verint Systems, which helps place tech workers on the right for elections, alerted dozens of them to Russian operatives working on social media campaigns to interfere in the election, the New York Times reported.
There’s no reason to believe that preparations for the 2020 U.S. presidential elections are imperiled by the social media firm meddling. Russia’s 2016 efforts were part of a broad effort that saw actors pose as Americans while acting to destabilize U.S. institutions and policies. Russian operatives later claim to have successfully worked to swing the 2016 U.S. election. The interference was well timed, with the onset of the convention and the general election barely a month apart. But the same kind of coordination could be expected to occur for the 2020 elections, which could produce a similarly persuasive outcome.
For Facebook, the stakes are extremely high. The Facebook platform was singled out for blame in congressional testimony earlier this month for enabling the Russian operation through the actions of millions of fake accounts and pages. The social media giant has already been struggling to deal with a surge in fake news stories around the 2016 elections. This week, tech news outlet Gizmodo reported that Cambridge Analytica obtained personal information of up to 87 million Facebook users. The company pulled it out of a massive data dump it was previously granted by Facebook of millions of users in 2014.
Facebook has been pushing back, noting that it is cooperating with investigations into Russian interference in the election and the corporation has announced a series of initiatives to improve news literacy on the platform, but it also faces an uncertain future without its crucial social network. That means the research the company provided to the congressional inquiry was especially relevant. Any plan the company can make in response to evidence of Russian interference in the 2020 election would be largely viewed by critics and investors as a new reason to doubt Facebook’s ability to protect itself from political interference in the future.
Read the full story at The New York Times.
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