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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Whistleblower: Russia taps Facebook ‘herds’ to sow division in Ukraine

DUBLIN — Facebook needs to stop organizing users into huge “like-minded” herds because Russia exploits this profit-maximizing policy to fuel divisions in Ukraine and weaken democracies worldwide, whistleblower Frances Haugen told Irish lawmakers today.

Haugen said when she was part of Facebook’s front-line threat intelligence unit, she could see how Russian accounts using fake profiles tapped into Facebook groups containing potentially a million users and fed them diets of incendiary propaganda.

But she said that, because of Facebook’s culture of secrecy, nobody but Facebook insiders have any ability to identify such “influence operations” run by Russia as well as China and Iran.  

“There is a major, major, major national security problem with Facebook with regard to its lack of transparency,” Haugen said.

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“This is a very commonly used technique by Russia for influencing how politics works in its neighboring countries, in places around the world,” she said. “It’s used by China, by Iran, by our major adversaries who have come in and said: We’re going to weaponize one of the most powerful things about Western countries — their openness.”

The main resource for exposing such division-stoking weaknesses on Facebook, she said, remains Twitter. She praised Twitter’s willingness to make data on tweets public for independent analysis.

“I was shocked to find out that many influence operations on Facebook were caught via Twitter, because Twitter made data available and Facebook refused to,” said Haugen, who resigned from Facebook in May 2021.

“People would analyze those tweets and find networks. They would find sets of accounts that acted in coordinated ways to spread messages that destabilized places like Ukraine,” she said. “People would take those networks, those IP addresses and give them to Facebook and say: ‘Hey, these accounts have the same names on Facebook; these IP addresses are operating in the same places.’ The fact that we have to rely on Twitter’s good actions to keep us safe with Facebook is unacceptable.”

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She lauded the EU’s proposed Digital Services Act for its focus on making system-wide practices more visible at Facebook, not on permitting the firm to maintain the sole power to decide what content should be removed from its platform.

“Unless we have forced transparency, we will not in any way adequately find those influence operations that Russia uses to destabilize free societies,” she said.

She said policy changes at Facebook since 2008 had shifted users’ experience too far away from friends and family, its original focus, and made it “super dangerous” to democracy.

https://ift.tt/rNcn8gf February 24, 2022 at 01:36AM
Shawn Pogatchnik

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