The legal and ethical obligations of social media moguls like Meta to remove disinformation from their websites have been convoluted by politics and often overshadowed by the albatross known as analytics and privacy. However, when looked at from a strategic national and even world security lens, it appears there is progress being made.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, has told congress and anyone else that would listen that while he doesn’t want the law (Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act) changed which gives himself and other “service providers” immunity for most content, he does feel the ethical obligation exist to remove disinformation.
While some news agencies (mainly in the cyber and security domains) have reported this activity by Meta (Facebook and Instagram’s parent company), it is often done with little fanfare. Meta has released special reports detailing their efforts to take down coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB) from multiple groups around the world. Recently – as in the past eighteen months or so – they have added Threat Reports which now appear to be issued quarterly and seemingly have taken the place of regular CIB reports (although there are still special CIB reports published). All of these reports are open source and can be found online. The most recent special report completed in September shows Meta’s efforts in removing CIB originating out of China and Russia.
The details in the special reports are fascinating. While the report does not go so far as to analyze strategic objectives of the groups removed, it does note tactics used which include fake accounts (either bot, troll or both), clusters or groups of these accounts originating from a common place, and hashtag campaigns used by the parties. The best part of these reports from a learning objective is the images removed with detailed descriptions, a very compelling piece of evidence.
While much of the activity removed as indicated in the separate Quarterly Threat Report details CIB in its purest form – efforts to sway public opinion – there also is evidence of multi-level CIB groups at work. Meta recently removed accounts and information tracked to APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) Bitter, a group originating in South Asia, who uses fake social media accounts to gain trust of targeted users in order to gain information directly or send malicious links containing key loggers and other spyware.
While the above are illustrations of adversarial behavior towards the United States, the reports don’t just root for the home team. Many other groups associated with U.S. allies have been taken down. Information operations is such a murky world.
While I don’t think I live in a bubble, reading these reports in detail was eye opening. I knew they existed, but didn’t know how loaded with details they would be. And behind every report is a team of disinformation data scientists tasked to not just sift through the needle in the haystack, but to help detect the disinformation algorithm at play.