Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Facebook Identifies Likely Russian Political Influence Campaign in Midterm Elections

American intelligence officials stated that Vladimir Putin
personally controlled the 2016 cyber-attacks.
Given Donald Trump's refusal to (i) admit the role of Russian efforts in his squeaker of a win in 2016, and (ii) his refusal to launch any significant effort to block future cyber-attacks, it isn't surprising that Facebook has announced that it has identified yet another active political campaign by likely Russian agents in the run up to the 2018 midterm elections.  Should Democrats win control of Congress, Putin's asset, Donald Trump, could at minimum face troublesome hearings and subpoenas, or even articles of impeachment. Hence the effort to reprise the 2016 cyber-attack. While Facebook released the information, one has to wonder why Facebook hasn't clamped down on the ability of foreign interest to purchase and moderate political efforts aimed at American elections.  The New York Times looks at this development.  Here are story highlights:
Facebook said on Tuesday that it had identified a political influence campaign that was potentially built to disrupt the midterm elections, with the company detecting and removing 32 pages and fake accounts that had engaged in activity around divisive social issues.
The company did not definitively link the campaign to Russia. But Facebook officials said some of the tools and techniques used by the accounts were similar to those used by the Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin-linked group that was at the center of an indictment this year alleging interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook said it had discovered coordinated activity around issues like a sequel to last year’s deadly “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Activity was also detected around #AbolishICE, a left-wing campaign on social media that seeks to end the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The jolting disclosure, delivered to lawmakers in private briefings on Capitol Hill this week and in a public Facebook post on Tuesday, underscored how behind-the-scenes interference in the November elections had begun.
In recent weeks, there have been reports of other meddling, including a Daily Beast report that the office of Claire McCaskill of Missouri, one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election this fall, was unsuccessfully targeted by Russian hackers last year, which Ms. McCaskill confirmed. American intelligence officials have indicated that at least one other unnamed Democratic senator up for re-election has been targeted.
Officials at Facebook, which is based in Silicon Valley, said they were working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other intelligence agencies on their discovery of the influence campaign.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Trump declared again on Twitter that there had been “No Collusion” between his campaign and the Russians, and asserted that, in any case, “collusion is not a crime.”
Lawmakers from both parties quickly set aside questions of who had perpetrated the influence campaign and said Facebook’s disclosure only clarified what they had feared since the extent of Russian involvement in 2016 became clear more than a year ago: that social media companies would be unable to keep up with the pace and scope of malicious efforts to abuse their platforms.
Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said he would make the disclosure a central part of a previously scheduled hearing on Wednesday, when lawmakers plan to press outside experts on the pervasiveness of foreign influence on social media networks like Facebook.
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the committee, praised Facebook on Tuesday for bringing the activity out into the public, but asked for its cooperation in updating laws to prevent influence campaigns.
“Today’s disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation,” he said.
Finding suspicious activity was harder this time around, Facebook said. Unlike many of the alleged Russian trolls in 2016, who paid for Facebook ads in rubles and occasionally used Russian internet protocol addresses, these accounts used advanced security techniques to avoid detection. For instance, they disguised their internet traffic using virtual private networks and internet phone services, and used third parties to buy ads for them.
“These bad actors have been more careful to cover their tracks, in part due to the actions we’ve taken to prevent abuse over the past year,” Mr. Gleicher said.
Like the 2016 Russian interference campaign, the recently detected campaign sought to amplify divisive social issues, including through organizing real-world events. On Capitol Hill and in congressional races across the country, the #AbolishICE campaign has divided Democrats and provided Republicans with fodder to paint Democratic candidates as extremists who want open borders. The issue, Republicans hope, could help drive a wedge between liberal Democrats and the moderate voters the party needs to retake control in Washington. Mr. Trump has gone as far as encouraging Democratic candidates to embrace the campaign. The American midterms, though, are a major test for the company [Facebook], which is trying to show that it can handle its role as a global arbiter of conversation and commerce — even with interference by others.
Earlier in July, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, warned that Russian interference remains an active threat to November’s elections.  “The warning lights are blinking red again,” he said.
Sadly, many - including some local "friends" seem to have learned nothing from 2016 and continue to fall for blatantly fake news and even re-post it.  Seemly, their racial bigotry and selfish motivations outweigh common sense.

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