Troll farms reached 140 million Americans a month on Facebook before the 2020 election

Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesman, said in a statement that the company “had already investigated these topics” at the time of Allen’s report. “Since then, we have stood as teams, developed new policies and collaborated with industry peers to address these networks. We have taken aggressive enforcement actions against foreign and local differences. false groups and publicly share the results every three months. ”

In the process of reviewing this story prior to publication, the MIT Technology Review found that five of the troll-farm pages mentioned in the report remained active.

The troll-farm’s most targeted page targeted African-Americans in October 2019, which remains active on Facebook.

The report finds that troll farms reached the same demographic groups selected by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA) in the 2016 election, which targeted Christians, Black Americans, and Native American. A 2018 Investigate BuzzFeed News It is known that at least one member of the IRA in Russia, accused of alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election, also visited Macedonia in the wake of the first troll farms, although no concrete evidence was found. in a connection. (Facebook says its investigations have no connection between the IRA and Macedonian troll farms, though.)

“It’s not normal. It is not healthy, ”Allen wrote. “We empower inactive actors to accumulate multiple followers for largely unknown purposes … The fact that actors with possible IRA affiliations have access to large audience numbers in the same demographic groups targeted by the IRA pose a significant risk in the U.S. 2020 election. “

As long as troll farms are found to be successful in using these tactics, any other bad actor can too, he continues: Now the IRA also has a large audience. ”

Allen wrote the report as the fourth and final installment in a year and a half of effort to understand troll farms. He left the company that same month, in part out of frustration that the leadership “effectively ignored” his research, according to a former Facebook staffer who provided the report. Allen declined to comment.

The report reveals the alarming state of affairs in which Facebook’s leadership has left the platform over the years, despite repeated public promises to aggressively deal with foreign -based electoral fraud. The MIT Technology Review made the full report available, with employee names updated, because it was in the public interest.

Its revelations include:

  • As of October 2019, about 15,000 Facebook pages with the largest U.S. audience had been consumed in Kosovo and Macedonia, known as bad artists during the 2016 election.
  • Altogether, those troll-farm pages-which the report treats as a page for comparison purposes-reach 140 million U.S. users per month and 360 million global users per week. Walmart’s page reached the second -largest audience in the U.S. at 100 million.
  • The troll farm pages are also combined to make:
    • the most visited American Christian page on Facebook, 20 times larger than the next largest – reaching 75 million U.S. users each month, 95% of whom have never followed any pages.
    • the most African-American Facebook page, three times larger than the next most-reaching 30 million U.S. users per month, 85% of whom have never followed any pages.
    • the second -most Native American page on Facebook, reaching 400,000 users per month, 90% of whom have not yet followed any pages.
    • the fifth largest women’s Facebook page, reaching 60 million US users each month, 90% of whom have never followed any of the pages.
  • Troll farms have mainly affected the US but also targeted the UK, Australia, India, and Central and South American countries.
  • Facebook goes through several studies that confirm that content that is more likely to receive user interaction (likes, comments, and shares) is more likely to be a different perceived bad. Still, the company continues to rank the content of user newsfeeds according to who receives the highest engagement.
  • Facebook has banned pages from posting content that has been copied and pasted from other parts of the platform but has not enforced the policy against known bad artists. This makes it easier for foreign artists who cannot speak the local language to post the overall copied content and still reach a wider audience. At one time, as many as 40% of U.S. pageviews went to exhibitors of primarily non-original content or material with limited originality.
  • Troll farms previously went to Facebook’s Instant Articles and Ad Breaks partnership programs, designed to help news organizations and other publishers get their articles and videos. At one time, thanks to the lack of basic quality reviews, as many as 60% of Instant Article readings would go to the content being manipulated from elsewhere. This makes it easy for troll farms to mix unnoticed, and also receive payments from Facebook.

How Facebook can make troll farms and grow their audience

The report specifically looks at troll farms based in Kosovo and Macedonia, run by people who don’t necessarily understand American politics. Even because of the way Facebook’s newsfeed reward systems are designed, they can still have a significant impact on political discourse.

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