Facebook Acknowledges Propaganda Is Spreading On Its Platform, Outlines Plan To Stop It


Beyond fake news, there is a new enemy that needs to be stopped: propaganda. And Facebook is doing everything to fight it.

Facebook has released a report detailing a so-called "information operations" deployed by sinister organizations across social media. The report is an acknowledgement that Facebook is being used by foreign governments and non-state groups to advance their political agenda.

Political propaganda is a new battleground that goes beyond fake news, a phenomenon that Facebook has taken steps to combat, such as the crackdown on fake accounts.

Information Operations

Facebook made available for download a 13-page report detailing the nature of Facebook as an engagement platform for self-expression, debate, and exchange of ideas, and as a tool by nefarious organizations out to twist the discourse and manipulate public opinion to suit their political motives.

The company is expanding its efforts from tackling abusive behavior like account hacking and spam, to addressing "more subtle and insidious forms of misuse, including attempts to manipulate civic discourse and deceive people."

Facebook introduced the new problem it is currently facing: information operations. By its definition, information operations are actions by organized entities (governments and non-state groups) to manipulate public sentiment in their favor and gain geopolitical advantage (both local and global) through the use of fake news, false information drive, and network of fake accounts described by Facebook as "false amplifiers."

Information operations is a strategy that has been done throughout history. But in today's hyper-connected world, social media like Facebook has become the modern tool for these activities.

Information operations through the "adept use of social media" is often a high-gain, zero-risk for the actors because of two crucial drivers: the global reach of social media, and the potential of everyone to be an amplifier.

Fake News And Information Operations

The term fake news has become a global phenomenon in recent times, with its use gaining mileage during the U.S. presidential elections campaign period in 2015 to 2016.

By Facebook's definition, fake news is a generic term for everything from factually incorrect news, memes, satire and parody pieces, hoaxes, distorted facts, and misrepresentation of information from legitimate news sources.

Information operations use fake news differently to suit their objectives:

Intent. Unlike some purveyors of fake news who spread it because of money, information operations are driven by political gains.

Medium. Normal fake news pretend to be legitimate news sources, whereas information operations actually involve real old and new media to magnify these fake news.

Amplification. Fake news "exists in a vacuum," but invested groups can coordinate the spread of fake news, thus becoming an information operation.

Facebook's Plan Of Action

Facebook has launched several efforts lately to combat fake news, from educational like sharing tips how to spot fake news, to more proactive efforts like shutting down fake accounts.

Regarding information operations, Facebook identified a three-part strategy that involved parties use:

Targeted data collection. The collection (or stealing) and dissemination of often confidential information to open and control public discourse (think of "alternative facts" or "leaks").

Content creation. The creation of contents (real and fake) and fake accounts (aka "false amplifiers").

False amplification. The coordinated efforts by false amplifiers to silence opposing views (through discouraging actions like sensationalizing and bullying) while advancing their own agenda (by widespread dissemination of their fake contents).

To address targeted data collection, Facebook promises to further improve its security and privacy features, like "two-factor authentication and in-product marketing to encourage adoption." It aims to notify the people themselves whether they are potential or active targets. It also plans to work with government bodies if necessary.

To combat false amplification, Facebook wants to take a more aggressive approach such as shutting down accounts that its security team identifies to be fake accounts or using analytical techniques and machine learning. Facebook determines account integrity by their "behaviors, not the content of the material created." It used the France elections as its case study, taking actions against "30,000 fake accounts."

For more in-depth details about the report, you may download it here (PDF).

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