Facebook just unsheathed its banhammer and started bashing hundreds of accounts and pages for breaking its rules. Facebook says most of the accounts came from US-based spam networks that were pushing political agendas, just like Russia did in 2016. What Facebook didn't say was they also kicked out several dozen accounts from a Russian data firm that was scraping profiles, just like Cambridge Analytica, except for the Russian government. It sounds really bad, but Facebook says it makes the world a better place.

In a blog post on Thursday Facebook said it uncovered 559 pages and 251 accounts run by Americans that were pushing disinformation with clickbait spam. According to Mark Zuckerberg's robots, this is one of the biggest cullings of domestic accounts, ensnaring both left and right-wing groups for creating fake social networks.

Many were using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names and posted massive amounts of content across a network of Groups and Pages to drive traffic to their websites. Many used the same techniques to make their content appear more popular on Facebook than it really was. Others were ad farms using Facebook to mislead people into thinking that they were forums for legitimate political debate.

One of the most notable accounts taken down was Right Wing News, a blog run by conservative troll John Hawkins. Facebook says RWN was smothering people like a teenaged Brett Kavanaugh with disinformation and spam in order to get more ad money. In a nutshell: RWN would buy ads to promote its fake news stories about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford smearing Justice Rapey McPrivilage, and target them towards their supporters. Then they'd use fake accounts to click their own ads and stories, generating more ad money and increasing the likelihood that their bullshit would appear in random Newsfeeds. This increased their chances of reaching the racist uncles and shitlords who share this crap on Facebook. It's kind of like a Russian nesting doll wearing a MAGA, underneath all layers is a little troll with tiny hands.

In a tweet that links to a rant, Hawkins says this is, "Facebook's sleazy little way of getting rid of conservative pages without risking heat from Republican politicians in D.C.," and he doesn't even run the Facebook pages that were banned. That last part might be true, Facebook does says the page went through administrators like Trump goes through wives. However, Facebook also says RWNs administrators ran multiple accounts under the same name, a big no-no under its rules concerning fraud. It's anyone's guess as to who was actually running the RWN Facebook page, Hawkin's says he only started his raging dumpster fire and has nothing to do with all the sock puppets pushing his content.

What's really important here is that RWN and the other accounts weren't kicked out for trolling or fake news, these groups were banned for being con-artists. Several progressive groups that were banned admitted to WaPo that they were gaming the system. They argue it's a pretty common tactic to create inorganic networks that drive users to different causes, it helps them spread their message and make a few bucks on the side. Hawkins, however, is screaming that he is being censored for writing countless top five lists on the "liberal hate for white people," how Hillary Clinton killed a dozen CIA agents, or why states should secede. He doesn't seem to understand that "censorship" is a side-effect of being caught running a scam.

Who's running RWN's Facebook if Hawkins is only writer on RWN?

Aside from some obvious spam networks and clickbait farms, Facebook also shutdown 66 profiles and pages that were part of a Russian data harvesting operation. If this sounds familiar that's because it's similar to Cambridge Analytica. The main difference here is that the CEO of the Russian company stealing information, Social Data Hub (and its parent company, Fubutech), was openly bragging about selling Facebook and Instagram data to advertisers, and freely giving information to the Kremlin. The company says that this isn't really a big deal, that it's all legal under Russian privacy laws and common for companies to give the government whatever it wants. Social Data Hub says it was creating a system for the Russian government to scrape data from public profiles, not trying to use selfies and late night rants to target propaganda (again). How patriotic.

What's strange about Russia's new data harvesting operation is respected cyber security researchers have noticed a strange silence from Russian trolls in the 2018 midterms. Where the Russians just couldn't shut up about a dying Hillary Clinton using her ninjas to bake children into pizzas in 2016, they seem to be sitting this election out. That could be because they're all out of ideas, or because they're busy screwing with European elections. Aside from trying to breach a few campaigns and staffers last year, the Russian troll farms have largely stuck to defending Brett Kavanaugh, propping up Trump, and creating fake social media campaigns to gin up anti-feminist rage. It's also likely that Putin realized the wingnut-o-sphere didn't need any help, Republicans are already doing a fine job of destroying the foundations of American democracy on their own.

Fuck Facebook. Here's a cute fuzzy critter.

[Daily Beast / NYTimes / The Verge / Reuters / CNET]

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Dominic Gwinn

Dominic is a broke journalist in Chicago. You can find him in a dirty bar talking to weirdos, or in a gutter taking photos.


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