Facebook, whose handling of the nation’s last major election has become a sprawling, headache-inducing public relations nightmare, has been eagerly touting how much better it plans to do in the future. (Have you heard of its very important and definitely super effective electoral War Room?) Late on Monday, the eve of the 2018 midterm elections, it posted a news dump showing its latest effort: 115 bans of accounts suspected of “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
What kind of coordinated inauthentic behavior? Who are these dastardly fake news operatives? What messages were they spreading, and how effectively? These are the kinds of questions that had few answers in said news dump:
On Sunday evening, US law enforcement contacted us about online activity that they recently discovered and which they believe may be linked to foreign entities.
Our very early-stage investigation has so far identified around 30 Facebook accounts and 85 Instagram accounts that may be engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior. We immediately blocked these accounts and are now investigating them in more detail. Almost all the Facebook Pages associated with these accounts appear to be in the French or Russian languages, while the Instagram accounts seem to have mostly been in English — some were focused on celebrities, others political debate.
Typically, we would be further along with our analysis before announcing anything publicly. But given that we are only one day away from important elections in the US, we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today.
We got some French, we got some Russian, we got some hot celebrity takes, and we got an unclear idea of who this was or whether any of these accounts were related to the midterms. Shrug.
Facebook did launch a fairly major purge of 559 Pages and 251 accounts mostly focused on politics earlier this year, though most of them were believed to be based in the U.S. It also extended some of its policies on prohibited or fact-checked content to include lies about voting requirements or conditions at poll sites in October. Beyond that, it also banned accounts involved in a fairly unimpressive influence campaign allegedly linked to the Russian-based Internet Research Agency and others it said appeared to be linked to Iran. On Monday, it also banned one of our terrible president’s racist ads.
Is it possible that Facebook is actually getting better at handling this stuff? Maybe, but it is also possible that fewer coordinated inauthentic behaviorists were particularly interested in investing that much effort in a midterm election, or that 2016-style shenanigans are just kind of old hat after two years of everyone shouting about it. It is also possible that tomorrow will see a re-enactment of the plot from Live Free or Die Hard, just using weird technicolor Trump memes instead of exploding helicopters.
Gizmodo has reached out to Facebook for comment, and we’ll update this post if we hear back.
Update 11/7/18 12:10pm: Despite a promise to update their initial press release once more information became available, Facebook told TechCrunch late last night the of the banned pages appeared to be linked Russia’s infamous troll farm the Internet Research Agency.