Social Media Campaigns Designed To Disrupt US Election

Facebook recently removed a small network of accounts and pages linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the “troll factory” that has used social media accounts to sow political discord in the US since the 2016 presidential election. 

The accounts were directing people to a news site called Peace Data, a “global news organisation” that’s focused largely on the environment and corporate and political corruption. This is a Russia-linked campaign to fuel political chaos in the US

Though the company, which launched this year, recruited some real journalists, several accounts that posed as “editors” were not real. Facebook has said it caught the network of 13 fake accounts and two pages early, before it had a chance to build a large audience - evidence of its growing effectiveness at targeting foreign disinformation operations ahead of the 2020 election.

Facebook said the people behind the network posted about global events ranging from racial justice in the US and the UK., NATO, US President Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. The network spent about $480 on advertising on Facebook, primarily in US dollars. However, Facebook said less than $2 worth of those ads targeted the US.

The network of 13 Facebook accounts and two pages posing as journalists and targeting left-wing progressives was removed for violating a policy against "foreign interference" at the platform.

The investigation that uncovered the covert operation, which was linked to the Internet Research Agency in Russia (IRA), started with a tip from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to Facebook head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher. The network was in the early stages of building an audience, with little engagement from users, "They put substantial effort into creating elaborate fictitious personas, trying to make fake accounts look as real as possible," Gleicher said .

The list of topics in posts included "social and racial justice in the US and UK, NATO and EU politics, the Biden-Harris campaign, QAnon, President Trump and his policies, and the US military policies in Africa."

The Facebook pages were said to be crafted to drive viewers to websites of the social network, and their operators were working diligently to get approval to run targeted ads. "It follows a steady pattern where particularly Russian actors have gotten better at hiding who they are, but their impact is smaller and smaller and they are getting caught earlier," Gleicher said.

Facebook has also taken down a disinformation network associated with a US public relations firm called CLS Strategies that the company said had spent millions of dollars to target users primarily in Latin America. 

Beyond Facebook 

The operation had a presence on Twitter and LinkedIn as well as on Facebook and Twitter has suspended five related accounts for "platform manipulation.". The company said the tweets from these Russia-linked accounts “were low quality and spammy” and that most received few, if any, likes or retweets. 

The campaign targeted its audience with English-language content focused heavily on a small number of political groups, including Democratic Socialists, environmentalists, and disgruntled Democrats in the US, according to an analysis by social media experts at Graphika. The network worked to amplify a PeaceData website that posed as an independent news outlet, the analysis found.

2020 Typosquatting Campaign

Also a new report from Digital Shadows indicates that the 2020 presidential election is being heavily leveraged for this staple of cyber fraud, but that most of the activity has been focused on stealing personal information rather than trying to sway the vote. 

The FBI issued a warning about typosquatting in early August, indicating that it had found dozens of sites that came online between March and June that could be used to influence the 2020 presidential election. The report does not go into detail on the locations or content of these sites and it is not clear to what degree this overlaps with the work that Digital Shadows has done. 

The United States intelligence community has advised that Russia, China and Iran all intend to meddle in the 2020 presidential election but thus far there is no clear evidence that they are making use of typosquatting to do so.

Threatpost:    Vice:   The Hill:   Security WeekJapan Times:   

Anchorage Daily News:     CPO Magazine:   Greenville News:

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