Half-masked accounts and seemingly sincere comments: The latest pro-Trump campaign to manipulate American voters dismantled by Facebook was orchestrated by a marketing firm, now banned from the platform, 26 days from a presidential election under high tension.
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The operation consisted mainly in posting comments on various subjects – in particular to criticize Joe Biden, the democratic candidate, and to apologize for Donald Trump – in order to “give the impression of broad support for their opinions”, a explained the Californian group in a press release Thursday.
He removed more than 300 accounts and pages, active on Facebook and Instagram. At work, Rally Forge, an American marketing firm that works for Turning Point USA, an organization that aims to mobilize students around Donald Trump, especially in states where the election is particularly close.
“So fed up with Democrats who pass Republicans off as bad guys!” “, Exclaims for example one of the agents of Rally Forge under an article of an NGO of the State of Wisconsin, accusing the Republican Party of changing the terms of the poll to its advantage.
The social media giant has linked these accounts and comments to the marketing firm, “although the people in this operation tried to hide their identities and the coordination between them.”
“Deceptive transactions like these present particularly complex challenges, as they blur the lines between public debate and manipulation,” Facebook said.
Opinion or imposture?
Facebook has been stepping up efforts for months not to repeat the trauma of 2016, when its network was used for massive voter manipulation operations, carried out from Russia, during the presidential elections in the United States and on Brexit in the Kingdom -United.
The platform has since dismantled many campaigns. Between March and September this year, it pulled 30 active networks around the world, some of which targeted the United States. Some were flown from abroad.
But they are more difficult to spot when the authors simply publish their opinions in newspaper articles or NGO announcements.
It “poses broader questions about the line between promoting political, acceptable, and sham ideas,” commented Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s director of security regulations.
He again called on elected officials to intervene and write new laws on content moderation, in order to “clarify the lines and impose stronger deterrence measures”.
Mark Zuckerberg, the group’s boss, has spoken out several times in favor of clearer regulation of what is and is not acceptable on social media.
Faced with the progress of artificial intelligence systems, propaganda attempts have also evolved, because the huge “troll farms” are too easily spotted.
“They use tactics that take a lot more time, like building a credible organization across different networks,” Gleicher noted.
The Rally Forge campaign, first detected by the American daily Washington Post, consisted of 200 accounts and 55 pages on Facebook, as well as 76 Instagram accounts, all of which were removed by the platform.
Some 373,000 people subscribed to at least one of these pages, and around 22,000 Instagram accounts followed at least one of the accounts involved on the photos platform.
The operation launched in 2018, then dormant, was reactivated in June, with “slightly veiled identities” of people who used their own names, barely changed.
“Many of the accounts used generic profile photos and pretended to be right-wing individuals living all over the United States,” Facebook said. “We believe this change in tactics is due to the fact that the majority of fake accounts on this network have been spotted by our automatic detection system. “
According to the Washington Post, Rally Forge mobilized teenagers to coordinate the posts and comments on the various platforms.
“These players are increasingly caught between a rock and a hard place, which makes them easier to catch,” Gleicher said. “We know they will continue to try to deceive people, including by passing off their views as more widespread than they are. “