Jun 1, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Facebook says U.S. is the top target of disinformation campaigns

Coordinated inauthentic behavior networks on Facebook
Data: Facebook; Chart: Axios Visuals

Of the 150 disinformation campaigns that Facebook has caught and removed in the past four years, the U.S. has been the most frequent target by far, according to a new threat intelligence report from Facebook.

Why it matters: While most of the campaigns targeting the U.S. have originated abroad, Facebook found that a significant number of campaigns targeting people in the U.S. have originated from inside the U.S.

  • "I think it's significant that while we saw a lot of foreign targeting of the U.S. ahead of 2020 election, there was also a lot of domestic targeting," says Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of security policy.
  • One campaign the company points to was the network operated by a U.S. based marketing firm, working on behalf of its clients, including a pro-Trump organization.

By the numbers: In total, the company said there were 16 takedowns of coordinated inauthentic behavior networks, or disinformation campaigns, ahead of the 2020 elections.

  • Of those 16 networks, five originated in Russia, five originated in Iran, and five originated in the the U.S. One originated in China.

Be smart: Not all networks caught were attributed to individuals or organizations tied to governments, but a few targeting the U.S. ahead of the 2020 election were attributed to Russia and Iran.

  • Facebook said it saw its first-ever "perception hack" stem from Iran last year, in which Iran-based actors use social media to create the false perception that they’ve pulled off major hacks of electoral systems.

Between the lines: Gleicher said the U.S. is uncovering more of these attempts thanks to a robust civic infrastructure, including cyber firms and academics in place to find and stop these types of interferences.

  • He notes that other countries that are often targeted with disinformation campaigns also tend to have strong communities trying to police this type of activity, including Ukraine and UK.
  • Countries that are experiencing high levels of civil unrest, like Myanmar, have also seen numerous examples of networks that originate in the same country of the people they are targeting.

The big picture: The findings from its most recent threat report show that online information warfare has become a common and pervasive tactic for political actors, and sometimes governments, to target both foreign adversaries and their own people.

  • Overall, Gleicher says Facebook has gotten better at uncovering and stopping more campaigns over the past few years. "The sophistication tends to get smaller," he said. "We're catching more, smaller operations."
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