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Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Facebook warned Tuesday that bad actors are increasingly taking to social media to create the false perception that they’ve pulled off major hacks of electoral systems or have otherwise seriously disrupted elections.

Why it matters: "Perception hacking," as Facebook calls it, can have dire consequences on people's faith in democracy, sowing distrust, division and confusion among the voters it targets.

Driving the news: The tech giant said Thursday that it recently took down three separate networks that violated its policies around coordinated inauthentic behavior, one of which was linked to a perception hack.

  • That particular network focused primarily on the U.S. and Israel. Facebook said it originated in Iran and had ties to that country's government. Facebook said it found this network after the FBI discovered off-platform activity by a network claiming to have interfered in the U.S. election.
  • As for the other two networks, one primarily targeted the U.S. and was operated by people in Mexico and Venezuela, while the other originated in Myanmar and focused on domestic audiences.

Be smart: Facebook says perception hacks are on the rise because industry and the government are getting better at catching and removing coordinated inauthentic networks before they can actually have a significant impact.

  • "As it gets harder to go undetected for long periods of time, we see malicious actors attempt to play on our collective expectation of wide-spread interference to create the perception that they’re more impactful than they in fact are," the company's head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher said in a blog post.

The big picture: Perception hacking poses a particularly acute threat to the 2020 U.S. election because it's already clouded by so much uncertainty around things like mail-in voting.

  • Last week, intelligence officials said Iranian operators had emailed Americans using publicly available voter registration information to say that they had successfully hacked the election.
  • At the time, FBI Director Christopher Wray said, "You should be confident that your vote counts. Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism."
  • These same actors also tried to spread their claims on Facebook, the platform said Thursday.

What's next: "We’re closely monitoring for potential scenarios where malicious actors around the world may use fictitious claims, including about compromised election infrastructure or inaccurate election outcomes, to suppress voter turnout or erode trust in the poll results, particularly in battleground states," Gleicher wrote.

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - Technology

Facebook Oversight Board overturns 4 of its 5 first cases

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook's independent Oversight Board published its first set of decisions Thursday, overturning four of the five cases it chose to review out of 20,000 cases submitted.

Why it matters: The decision to go against Facebook's conclusions in four out of five instances gives legitimacy to the board, which is funded via a $130 million grant from Facebook.

App rush: Talent over trash

Data: Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Amid the sea of pollution on social media, another class of apps is soaring in popularity: The creators are paid, putting a premium on talent instead of just noise.

The big picture: Creator-economy platforms like Patreon, Substack and OnlyFans are built around content makers who are paid. It's a contrast to platforms like Facebook that are mostly powered by everyday users’ unpaid posts and interactions.

Mike Allen, author of AM
30 mins ago - Politics & Policy

First look: Anita Dunn advises Dems on economy message for '22

Signs from a President Biden event yesterday in Kansas City, Mo. Photo: Chase Castor/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In a midterm preview, top Democratic strategist Anita Dunn advises the party's House and Senate members to frame Republicans "as being against the economic interests of working Americans."

What she's saying: "Explicitly framing Republicans as opposing policies to lower costs does better than simply framing Republicans as the 'party of no,'" Dunn, White House senior adviser until August, writes in the memo.