This is a concern, as we head into the final stretch of the US Presidential election campaign.
This week, Facebook has reported its discoveries of three new Russian-based networks that have been attempting to use Facebook to interfere in foreign political debates.
The three networks are as follows:
- 14 Facebook users, 35 Pages, 18 Groups and 34 Instagram accounts which Facebook has traced back to the Russian military
- 1 Page, 5 Facebook accounts, 1 Group and 3 Instagram accounts linked to the Russian Internet Research Agency (the group behind the majority of Russian-based interference operations during the 2016 US Presidential campaign)
- 23 Facebook accounts, 6 Pages, and 8 Instagram accounts that have been linked back to Russian intelligence services
Cumulatively, around 74k people followed these Pages on Facebook, 9.5k had joined their associated groups and around 15k followed the profiles on Instagram. So in terms of scale, the impact is not massive - but then again, impact can't be measured in initial audience size in this respect, as it only takes a small group to plant a seed that can then become a much bigger point of debate and division among Facebook audiences.
In assessing their purpose, Facebook found that these operations were mostly focused on distributing content around local elections and geopolitical conspiracies, and included reports on COVID-19 misinformation, foreign trade sanctions, police brutality and more. And all of them gave at least some focus to the US election and Presidential candidates.
Of course, it's no major surprise to see Russian-based operatives looking to influence the US election, as they did in 2016, but it's concerning to see such activity ramping up just 40 days out from the poll.
How you view the findings then comes down to perspective. On one hand, these new discoveries show that Facebook's efforts to detect and remove these clusters are working, as they're finding more of them as time goes on.
But are they detecting all of them? Are these just the ones that Facebook has caught, and other groups are still using The Social Network to influence voter opinions?
We can't know the full extent of such operations, but the findings show that foreign groups are certainly not going to stop trying to use The Social Network as a tool to incite voter action, in order to influence the final result of the November poll.
Hopefully, Facebook's improved initiatives are detecting the majority of these groups before they can have any impact.
The next month will be the biggest test of Facebook's detection systems to date.