Special Counsel investigates social media

By Heidi Cho
Nation & World Editor

Facebook released 3,000 advertisements seemingly linked to Russia over to Congress and the Special Counsel on Thursday, Sept. 21. The ads that ran in America between 2015 and 2017 were shared in order to help assess Russian influence on the 2016 election, according to The New York Times.

Zuckerberg believes Facebook can aid democracy. (AP Photo)
Zuckerberg believes Facebook can aid democracy. (AP Photo)

Facebook first disclosed that an unknown Russian company linked to the Kremlin bought over $100,000 worth of advertisements meant to further divide Americans on Sept. 6, according to The New York Times.

The ads focused on hot-button issues like race, gay rights, gun control and immigration, according to a post on Facebook made by Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer.

The accounts that posted over 3,000 ads appeared to be linked to a Russian entity that goes by the Internet Research Agency, according to Facebook’s official statement written by Colin Stretch, general counsel.

Facebook suspended 470 unauthentic Facebook accounts and pages that the polarizing ads were sponsoring. These so-called “dummy accounts” were run by fictional American activists that posted intentionally inflammatory messages on hot social issues, according to The Guardian.

The New York Times gave one example. Melvin Redick of Harrisburg, Pennyslvania, has no corresponding Pennsylvania records, and his Facebook pictures were taken from an unaware Brazilian.

Yet the account posted on June 8, “These guys show hidden truth about Hillary Clinton, George Soros and other leaders of the US. Visit #DCLeaks website. It’s really interesting!”

Posts like these were meant to polarize American citizens, and Bloomberg reported another instance where fake Facebook accounts were used to influence, divide and confuse citizens of France during  their 2016 election. Facebook also shut down fake accounts then too.

“I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy. That’s not what we stand for,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted on Thursday, Sept. 21.

“We have had to expand our security focus from traditional abusive behavior, such as account hacking, malware, spam and financial scams, to include more subtle and insidious forms of misuse, including attempts to manipulate civic discourse and deceive people,” Facebook said in the paper, Information Operations and Facebook.

The paper detailed techniques to stop the spread of misleading information on social media. It was released on April 27.

Zuckerberg on Sept. 21 additionally posted more steps that the company will take in an effort to keep similar situations from happening again, like requiring increased political ad transparency.

The role of social media in elections is still being investigated, as Twitter announced that it will meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, Sept. 27, about Russian activity on their media platform as well, according to The New York Times.