Facebook is “better prepared” for the sorts of meddling that occurred on its platform prior to the 2016 U.S. presidential race, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday, albeit weeks after the company’s former chief security officer said the time has passed for adequately protecting the November midterm elections from interference.
“In 2016, our election security efforts prepared us for traditional cyberattacks like phishing, malware and hacking,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in a lengthy blog post. “We identified those and notified the government and those affected. What we didn’t expect were foreign actors launching coordinated information operations with networks of fake accounts spreading division and misinformation.
“Today, Facebook is better prepared for these kinds of attacks,” he continued. “We’ve identified and removed fake accounts ahead of elections in France, Germany, Alabama, Mexico, and Brazil. We’ve found and taken down foreign influence campaigns from Russia and Iran attempting to interfere in the U.S., U.K., Middle East, and elsewhere — as well as groups in Mexico and Brazil that have been active in their own country.”
Indeed, Facebook touted as recently as last month the removal of hundreds of accounts connected to alleged influence operations linked to Russia and Iran, including accounts accused of propagating misleading, politically charged messages, echoing malicious behavior conducted on the platform two years earlier during the 2016 race.
Months until the November midterms, however, Facebook’s former chief security officer recently said that the discovery of those influence operations and others suggest the current race risks being exploited as well.
“This underlines a sobering reality: America’s adversaries believe that it is still both safe and effective to attack U.S. democracy using American technologies and the freedoms we cherish,” Alex Stamos wrote in a blog post published following his departure from Facebook last month.
Russia was able to interfere in the 2016 race by conducting a multipronged attack on the election system that relied in part on spreading fake news and disinformation on social media platforms including Facebook, according to U.S. officials, and the Justice Department has filed criminal charges against several Russian nationals accused of weaponizing the platform to wage “information warfare” against the United States.
Addressing the subject this week, former intelligence officials including Michael Hayden, the former head of both the National Security Agency and CIA, said President Trump’s administration is more adept than Barack Obama’s in terms of protecting the U.S. election process against foreign interference.
“I actually think we are better defended under the Trump administration than we were under the Obama administration, and it’s simply because of a natural progression of the institutions of American government,” Mr. Hayden said at an event Tuesday, crediting improvements made possible by learning from the foreign meddling witnessed in 2016.
Nonetheless, current Trump administration officials, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, have recently warned that Russia is “absolutely” still interfering in U.S. affairs.
Facebook previously said it detected and deleted hundreds of accounts operated during the 2016 race by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll farm” accused of conducting social media operations at Moscow’s behest. Accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency ultimately created upwards of 80,000 posts, including over 3,000 paid advertisements and scored of bogus events, in turn reaching millions of Americans users.
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