Research suggests the Russian government paid Facebook to promote posts targeted at specific voter groups during 2016 US Presidential election
LGBT United, a Facebook page that claimed to speak “for all fellow members of LGBT community across the nation”, is one of six pages to have been named by the Washington Post as those reportedly used by Russia to target US voters.
Blacktivists, United Muslims of America, Being Patriotic, Heart of Texas and Secured Borders were the other pages listed by the Post.
Social media analyst Jonathan Albright, of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, found that content from the six pages had been “shared” 340 million times. A “share” essentially meaning how often a post may have made its way into somebody’s Facebook news feed – without determining whether posts had been read or not.
Speaking to the Washington Post Albright said: “The tone of the posts [on each of the pages] varies strikingly… The one seemingly managed by a lesbian is intimate, confidential and chatty, with complaints about parents and teachers not understanding the challenges of being young and gay.
“The English is nearly flawless. One popular post said simply, ‘Bi and proud!’ with a thumbs-up emoji attached to the end.”
The aim of the propaganda campaign appears to have been to distract voters from the US election by taking advantage of Facebook targeted posts and pages.
Albright added: “The goal seemed less to inspire enthusiasm for one candidate than to dampen support for voting at all. This fits with what many other researchers and investigators have said about the Russian disinformation campaign, that it drove directly at the fractures in American society and sought to widen them.”
In a blog post updated on 6 October, Vice President of Policy and Communications for Facebook Elliot Schrage wrote:
“This past April, we announced improvements to these systems aimed at helping us detect fake accounts on our service more effectively. As we began to roll out these changes globally, we took action against tens of thousands of fake accounts in France. This number represents fake accounts of all varieties, the most common being those that are used for financially-motivated spam.
“While we believe that the removal of these accounts also reduced the spread of disinformation, it’s incorrect to state that these tens of thousands of accounts represent organized campaigns from any particular country or set of countries.
“Approximately 470 accounts and Pages we shut down recently were identified by our dedicated security team that manually investigates specific, organized threats. They found that this set of accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another — and were likely operated out of Russia.”
LGBT United and the other five pages have since been shut down by Facebook.