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Jul 31, 2018

Axios PM

Situational awareness: Prosecutors described Paul Manafort as a "shrewd" liar in the opening statements for his trial today. Manafort's lawyers, for their part, placed much of the blame on Rick Gates. We'll have live updates at Why it matters.

1 big thing: The latest Facebook disinformation campaign

Photo Illustration: Axios Visuals

Facebook is being used for a coordinated disinformation campaign again — but this time, it's getting way out in front of the threat, before it's even clear where the threat is coming from, Axios' David Nather writes.

What we know:

  • Facebook announced it has removed eight Pages and 17 accounts from Facebook, along with seven Instagram accounts, that violated its ban on "coordinated inauthentic behavior."
  • The Pages with the biggest followings: “Aztlan Warriors,” “Black Elevation,” “Mindful Being,” and “Resisters.”
  • More than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of those Pages, while others had smaller followings.
  • What they did: They created more than 9,500 posts. The "Resisters" also promoted a "No United The Right 2 — DC" event and got help from the administrators of five legitimate Pages.
  • The content appeared to be aimed at left-leaning voters. When asked, Facebook told reporters “We’re not characterizing the broad nature of the content at this point."

What we don't know:

  • Who's behind them. Facebook says it can't connect them to any specific group, like the Russian-based Internet Research Agency that abused social media platforms in the 2016 election. (Lawmakers were less shy about making the Russia connection.)
  • What their goals were. Facebook stuck to describing what the Pages and accounts did, not trying to determine what their motivations were.

Thought bubble from Axios' Joe Uchill: The posts appear to be the early stages of a social media campaign. "Right now, the released content is just building rapport with an audience. Based on the groups, it's a broad cross section of left subgroups — an African-American group, a Latino group, a women's group and people likely to be interested in pages about 'mindfulness.'"

Why it matters, per the Axios tech team: It shows that social media interference didn't end with the 2016 election. This disinformation campaign, like the one in 2016, appears aimed at sowing discord to create feedback loops encouraging people to push against the establishment.

The bottom line: The announcement was Facebook's way of saying, "look, we're on top of it this time." It's also a way to subtly compete with Twitter and Google, which will now be under pressure to catch disinformation campaigns early, too.

Go deeper: See the political disinformation Facebook axed

Bonus: Photo du jour

Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli children play in a soap bubbles pool in the southern city of Netivod during the summer holidays on July 31, 2018.

2. What you missed
  1. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has accepted President Trump's offer to stay through 2020, the WSJ scooped Tuesday and Axios can confirm.
  2. Trump threatened a government shutdown over his border wall on this afternoon, tweeting "I don’t care what the political ramifications are... and there is no way that the Democrats will allow it to be fixed without a Government Shutdown."
  3. Trump surprised today by weighing in on 3-D printing of guns, tweeting: "I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!" Those guns are the subject of today's Axios Pro Rata podcast. Listen here.
  4. The NBA has signed a sports betting sponsorship deal with MGM Resorts that could be worth up to $25 million, reports ESPN. It's the first major deal between a major sports league and a casino since the Supreme Court legalized sports gambling. Go deeper.
  5. L.A. prosecutors declined to pursue sex abuse charges against Les Moonves, citing the expiration of the statute of limitations, per NBC News. Go deeper.
3. 1 fun thing

Parents are paying for Fortnite coaching for their kids, aiming for scholarship money or even just hoping to make their kids more popular, the WSJ's Sarah Needleman reports.

  • The wildly-popular game has 125 million players worldwide, and is a central part in the rapidly growing e-sports community, where people watch others play video games.
  • “There’s pressure not to just play it but to be really good at it,” said Ally Hicks, a project manager from England who bought her 10-year-old four hours of lessons. “You can imagine what that was like for him at school.”
  • "Coaches can be found on social media or through contracting sites such as Gamer Sensei and Bidvine... Some coaches can’t believe parents want to sign up their children for lessons.
  • “It’s really surreal to me,” said Logan Werner, an 18-year-old 'Fortnite' coach in Roy, Utah, who plays the combat game on a professional team called Gankstars.
  • “My dad would have never paid for me to take videogame lessons.”