Thousands of fake Facebook accounts shut down by Meta were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024

Thousands of fake Facebook accounts shut down by Meta were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024
Attendees visit the Meta booth at the Game Developers Conference 2023 in San Francisco on March 22, 2023. (AP/File)
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Updated 30 November 2023
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Thousands of fake Facebook accounts shut down by Meta were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024

Thousands of fake Facebook accounts shut down by Meta were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024
  • The network of nearly 4,800 fake accounts hints at serious threats posed by online disinformation 
  • National elections will occur in the US, Pakistan, India, Ukraine, Taiwan and other nations next year 

WASHINGTON: Someone in China created thousands of fake social media accounts designed to appear to be from Americans and used them to spread polarizing political content in an apparent effort to divide the US ahead of next year’s elections, Meta said Thursday. 

The network of nearly 4,800 fake accounts was attempting to build an audience when it was identified and eliminated by the tech company, which owns Facebook and Instagram. The accounts sported fake photos, names and locations as a way to appear like everyday American Facebook users weighing in on political issues. 

Instead of spreading fake content as other networks have done, the accounts were used to reshare posts from X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that were created by politicians, news outlets and others. The interconnected accounts pulled content from both liberal and conservative sources, an indication that its goal was not to support one side or the other but to exaggerate partisan divisions and further inflame polarization. 

The newly identified network shows how America’s foreign adversaries exploit US-based tech platforms to sow discord and distrust, and it hints at the serious threats posed by online disinformation next year, when national elections will occur in the US, India, Mexico, Ukraine, Pakistan, Taiwan and other nations. 

“These networks still struggle to build audiences, but they’re a warning,” said Ben Nimmo, who leads investigations into inauthentic behavior on Meta’s platforms. “Foreign threat actors are attempting to reach people across the Internet ahead of next year’s elections, and we need to remain alert.” 

Meta Platforms Inc., based in Menlo Park, California, did not publicly link the Chinese network to the Chinese government, but it did determine the network originated in that country. The content spread by the accounts broadly complements other Chinese government propaganda and disinformation that has sought to inflate partisan and ideological divisions within the US 

To appear more like normal Facebook accounts, the network would sometimes post about fashion or pets. Earlier this year, some of the accounts abruptly replaced their American-sounding user names and profile pictures with new ones suggesting they lived in India. The accounts then began spreading pro-Chinese content about Tibet and India, reflecting how fake networks can be redirected to focus on new targets. 

Meta often points to its efforts to shut down fake social media networks as evidence of its commitment to protecting election integrity and democracy. But critics say the platform’s focus on fake accounts distracts from its failure to address its responsibility for the misinformation already on its site that has contributed to polarization and distrust. 

For instance, Meta will accept paid advertisements on its site to claim the US election in 2020 was rigged or stolen, amplifying the lies of former President Donald Trump and other Republicans whose claims about election irregularities have been repeatedly debunked. Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence that the presidential election, which Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden, was tainted. 

When asked about its ad policy, the company said it is focusing on future elections, not ones from the past, and will reject ads that cast unfounded doubt on upcoming contests. 

And while Meta has announced a new artificial intelligence policy that will require political ads to bear a disclaimer if they contain AI-generated content, the company has allowed other altered videos that were created using more conventional programs to remain on its platform, including a digitally edited video of Biden that claims he is a pedophile. 

“This is a company that cannot be taken seriously and that cannot be trusted,” said Zamaan Qureshi, a policy adviser at the Real Facebook Oversight Board, an organization of civil rights leaders and tech experts who have been critical of Meta’s approach to disinformation and hate speech. “Watch what Meta does, not what they say.” 

Meta executives discussed the network’s activities during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, the day after the tech giant announced its policies for the upcoming election year — most of which were put in place for prior elections. 

But 2024 poses new challenges, according to experts who study the link between social media and disinformation. Not only will many large countries hold national elections, but the emergence of sophisticated AI programs means it’s easier than ever to create lifelike audio and video that could mislead voters. 

“Platforms still are not taking their role in the public sphere seriously,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a Syracuse University professor who studies digital media. 

Stromer-Galley called Meta’s election plans “modest” but noted it stands in stark contrast to the “Wild West” of X. Since buying the X platform, then called Twitter, Elon Musk has eliminated teams focused on content moderation, welcomed back many users previously banned for hate speech and used the site to spread conspiracy theories. 

Democrats and Republicans have called for laws addressing algorithmic recommendations, misinformation, deepfakes and hate speech, but there’s little chance of any significant regulations passing ahead of the 2024 election. That means it will fall to the platforms to voluntarily police themselves. 

Meta’s efforts to protect the election so far are “a horrible preview of what we can expect in 2024,” according to Kyle Morse, deputy executive director of the Tech Oversight Project, a nonprofit that supports new federal regulations for social media. “Congress and the administration need to act now to ensure that Meta, TikTok, Google, X, Rumble and other social media platforms are not actively aiding and abetting foreign and domestic actors who are openly undermining our democracy.” 

Many of the fake accounts identified by Meta this week also had nearly identical accounts on X, where some of them regularly retweeted Musk’s posts. 

Those accounts remain active on X. A message seeking comment from the platform was not returned. 

Meta also released a report Wednesday evaluating the risk that foreign adversaries including Iran, China and Russia would use social media to interfere in elections. The report noted that Russia’s recent disinformation efforts have focused not on the US but on its war against Ukraine, using state media propaganda and misinformation in an effort to undermine support for the invaded nation. 

Nimmo, Meta’s chief investigator, said turning opinion against Ukraine will likely be the focus of any disinformation Russia seeks to inject into America’s political debate ahead of next year’s election. 

“This is important ahead of 2024,” Nimmo said. “As the war continues, we should especially expect to see Russian attempts to target election-related debates and candidates that focus on support for Ukraine.” 


Trump says Navalny was ‘brave,’ but should not have returned to Russia

Trump says Navalny was ‘brave,’ but should not have returned to Russia
Updated 6 sec ago
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Trump says Navalny was ‘brave,’ but should not have returned to Russia

Trump says Navalny was ‘brave,’ but should not have returned to Russia
  • The Kremlin has denied involvement in Navalny’s death and said that Western claims that Putin was responsible are unacceptable

GREENVILLE, South Carolina: Former US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that Alexei Navalny was “a very brave man” who “probably” should not have returned to Russia, without assigning any blame for the Russian opposition leader’s unexpected death.
Democratic President Joe Biden and other Western leaders have blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for Navalny’s death, as has Nikki Haley, who trails far behind Trump as his sole remaining rival for the Republican presidential nomination.
“Navalny is a very sad situation, and he is a very brave, he was a very brave guy because he went back. He could have stayed away,” Trump said during a town hall interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham in South Carolina.
“And, frankly, probably would have been a lot better off staying away and talking from outside of the country as opposed to having to go back in, because people thought that could happen and it did happen. And it’s a horrible thing,” he said.
The Kremlin has denied involvement in Navalny’s death and said that Western claims that Putin was responsible are unacceptable.
Trump — who has expressed admiration for Putin during his 2017-2021 White House tenure and afterward — also continued to compare himself to Navalny, implying that both men had faced unjust prosecutions due to their political beliefs.
“But it’s happening in our country too,” he said. “We are turning into a communist country in many ways. And if you look at it — I’m the leading candidate. I get indicted.”
On Sunday, Trump wrote in a Truth Social post that Navalny’s death in an Arctic penal colony last week had made him “more aware of what is happening” in the United States. Trump did not elaborate, but he has frequently described the 91 criminal charges against him as politically motivated, a claim prosecutors deny.
During the interview on Tuesday, which was conducted before a live audience in Greenville four days before the state’s primary contest, Trump continued to blast migrants, portraying them as a threat to public safety without offering any evidence to support his claims that they are more violent than native-born Americans.
At several moments, 77-year-old Trump’s answers to questions veered into tangential topics.
While being asked about electric vehicles and Americans’ “freedom of movement,” Trump spoke about the usefulness of tariffs and described his interactions with an unnamed American dishwasher company during his time in office.
Trump praised South Carolina US Senator Tim Scott, who joined Trump on stage for the final part of the interview. The former president has privately asked associates about naming Scott, a one-time rival in the Republican nomination battle, as his running mate, sources familiar with the matter have previously said.
Tying himself to Scott may have short-term electoral benefits for the former president in South Carolina, where voters go to the polls on Saturday to choose who they want as the Republican nominee to take on Biden in the Nov. 5 election.
Trump is leading Haley by more than 30 percentage points in South Carolina according to most polls, and his team is eager to deliver a crushing blow. However, Haley has said there is no way she will drop out and that she plans to keep campaigning into March.


US lawmakers hopeful of pause in Gaza war before Ramadan

Richard Blumenthal (L) and Chris Coons. (Photo/Twitter @SenBlumenthal, @ChrisCoons)
Richard Blumenthal (L) and Chris Coons. (Photo/Twitter @SenBlumenthal, @ChrisCoons)
Updated 12 min 3 sec ago
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US lawmakers hopeful of pause in Gaza war before Ramadan

Richard Blumenthal (L) and Chris Coons. (Photo/Twitter @SenBlumenthal, @ChrisCoons)
  • Israel has killed over 29,000 Palestinians, more than 70 percent of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry

AMMAN: Two senior US lawmakers who held talks with Israeli and Arab leaders said on Tuesday that they were hopeful a deal could be struck allowing a humanitarian pause in the war in Gaza before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
In an interview with Reuters in Amman, Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Coons — who said they had earlier met Jordan’s King Abdullah and held talks with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem — said there was “broad hope” of a deal soon to release hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a pause in fighting.
“Within a matter of weeks we could see a pause before Ramadan,” Blumenthal, who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Reuters.
Arabs countries led by Jordan have expressed worries that Israel’s continued offensive against Hamas during the holy month of Ramadan could ramp up tensions further in the war.
But Egyptian and Qatari-mediated talks to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and secure the release of over 100 Israeli hostages being held in the Hamas-ruled territory have yet to produce results. A round of inconclusive talks in Cairo ended last week.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel would not pay any price for the return of hostages, saying the way to free them was by ramping up the military pressure on Gaza and defeating Hamas.
Still, Blumenthal said that talks with Israeli leaders suggested that Israel is open to a pause as it wraps up a phase of intense fighting in Gaza and moves to a potential focus on counter-insurgency combat instead.
“Once there is that agreement on a pause it opens the way toward a negotiation that could produce self governance by the Palestinians, a state that gives them control over their own destiny,” Blumenthal said.
But an Israeli offensive in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge, would complicate efforts toward a halt in the fighting and the senators warned that Israel had an obligation to protect civilians and allow for relocations before moving on Rafah.
“There is an attempt to balance between supporting Israel and its war against Hamas and supporting the legitimate aspirations of Palestinian people for self governance and end of conflict,” Coons said.
 

 

 


Russia denies US reports Moscow plans to put nuclear weapons in space

Russia denies US reports Moscow plans to put nuclear weapons in space
Updated 20 min 42 sec ago
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Russia denies US reports Moscow plans to put nuclear weapons in space

Russia denies US reports Moscow plans to put nuclear weapons in space
  • The 1967 treaty bars signatories – including Russia and the United States – from placing “in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction”

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia was against the deployment of nuclear weapons in space, and his defense minister flatly denied US claims that Russia was developing a nuclear capability for space.
A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Washington believes Moscow is developing a space-based anti-satellite nuclear weapon whose detonation could disrupt everything from military communications to phone-based ride services.
“Our position is clear and transparent: We have always been categorically against and are now against the deployment of nuclear weapons in space,” Putin told Sergei Shoigu, his defense minister.
“We urge not only compliance with all agreements that exist in this area, but also offered to strengthen this joint work many times,” Putin said.
He added that Russia’s activities in space did not differ from those of other countries, including the United States.
The clearest public sign that Washington thinks Moscow is working on a space-based anti-satellite nuclear weapon was a White House spokesperson’s comment on Thursday that the system being developed would
violate the Outer Space Treaty.
The 1967 treaty bars signatories – including Russia and the United States – from placing “in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction.”
The New York Times has reported that the US intelligence was related to Russia’s attempts to develop a space-based anti-satellite nuclear weapon.

’NO SUCH PROJECTS’
Commenting on the US allegation, Shoigu said there were no plans of the kind outlined by the unidentified sources in the United States.
“Firstly, there are no such projects — nuclear weapons in space. Secondly, the United States knows that this does not exist,” Shoigu told Putin.
He accused the White House of trying to scare US lawmakers into allocating more funds for Ukraine as part of Washington’s plan to inflict what he said was a strategic defeat on Russia.
He said the second reason for the leaked information about the alleged Russian weapon was to encourage Russia to engage in a dialogue about strategic stability.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has led to the most serious confrontation between Moscow and the West since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and the post-Cold War arms control architecture has crumbled.
Putin said Russia had never been against discussions about strategic stability, but he said it was impossible to divide what he said was the West’s aim to defeat Russia and talks about strategic security.
“If they seek to inflict a strategic defeat on us, then we must think about what strategic stability means for our country,” Putin said.
“Therefore, we do not reject anything, we do not give up anything, but we need to figure out what they want. They usually want to achieve unilateral advantages. That’s not going to happen.”
Putin did not rule out talks at defense and foreign ministry level with the United States on strategic stability.

 


China disappointed over US veto on Israel-Hamas ceasefire vote, Xinhua reports

China disappointed over US veto on Israel-Hamas ceasefire vote, Xinhua reports
Updated 56 min 4 sec ago
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China disappointed over US veto on Israel-Hamas ceasefire vote, Xinhua reports

China disappointed over US veto on Israel-Hamas ceasefire vote, Xinhua reports
  • “China expresses its strong disappointment at and dissatisfaction with the US veto,” Xinhua reported Zhang Jun as saying

BEIJING: China expressed “strong disappointment” over the United States blocking a draft United Nations Security Council resolution on the Israel-Hamas war calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, Xinhua reported on Wednesday, citing China’s permanent representative to the United Nations Zhang Jun.

Algeria’s Ambassador to the United Nations Amar Bendjama votes in favor as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield vetoes a vote on a UN Security Council resolution to demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, at UN headquarters in New York, US, February 20, 2024. (REUTERS)

The United States on Tuesday vetoed for the third time a draft United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution, blocking a demand for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire as it instead pushes the 15-member body to call for a temporary ceasefire linked to the release of hostages held by Hamas.
“China expresses its strong disappointment at and dissatisfaction with the US veto,” Xinhua reported Zhang Jun as saying.
“The US veto sends a wrong message, pushing the situation in Gaza into a more dangerous one,” Zhang said, adding that objection to ceasefire in Gaza is “nothing different from giving the green light to the continued slaughter.”

 

 


Brazil foreign minister says Israeli counterpart ‘lying’ in Gaza spat

Brazil foreign minister says Israeli counterpart ‘lying’ in Gaza spat
Updated 21 February 2024
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Brazil foreign minister says Israeli counterpart ‘lying’ in Gaza spat

Brazil foreign minister says Israeli counterpart ‘lying’ in Gaza spat
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Lula had “crossed a red line,” and Katz declared the Brazilian leader “persona non grata in the state of Israel so long as he doesn’t retract his remarks and apologize”

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil’s foreign minister on Tuesday accused his Israeli counterpart of “lying” as a diplomatic spat escalated over President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s comparison of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza to the Holocaust.
Mauro Vieira, whose country is hosting a G20 foreign ministers meeting this week, said statements by Israel Katz were “unacceptable in their nature and lying in their content” as well as “outrageous.”
Israel has reacted furiously after Lula said the conflict in the Gaza Strip “isn’t a war, it’s a genocide,” and compared it to “when Hitler decided to kill the Jews.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Lula had “crossed a red line,” and Katz declared the Brazilian leader “persona non grata in the state of Israel so long as he doesn’t retract his remarks and apologize.”
Katz summoned Brazil’s ambassador Frederico Meyer for a meeting Monday at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem.
In a tit-for-tat move, the Brazilian foreign ministry then summoned the Israeli ambassador to Brazil, Daniel Zonshinem, and recalled Meyer from Tel Aviv for consultations.
On Tuesday, Katz took to X to describe Lula’s comparison as “delusional.”