Cyberwarfare / Nation-State Attacks , Fraud Management & Cybercrime , Social Media

Facebook Investigated Suspicious Pro-Sanders Content: Report

Investigation Found No Links to Russians, Wall Street Journal Reports
Facebook Investigated Suspicious Pro-Sanders Content: Report
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders

Facebook recently investigated suspicious content meant to support U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders but was unable to substantiate involvement by Russians or supporters of President Donald Trump, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing people familiar with the matter.

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The social media company received tips from independent online disinformation researchers about inauthentic activity on Facebook supporting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, the Journal reports.

Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said the company had not found evidence to back claims that the activity was coming from Russian actors or Trump supporters, according to the Journal.

The news comes amid other reports of Russia trying to meddle in the upcoming U.S. election, as it did in 2016. Russia reportedly used Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to spread misinformation in an effort to influence the 2016 presidential election as well as the 2018 U.S. midterms.

Last week, The Washington Post reported that U.S. officials had told Sanders that Russia was trying to support his campaign.

Earlier this month, a senior U.S. intelligence official reportedly told the House Intelligence Committee that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election with the goal of helping President Donald Trump get re-elected. But this week, three national security officials told CNN that the U.S. does not have evidence that Russia's interference this cycle is aimed at re-electing Trump.

Facebook Content

At least two independent researchers found inauthentic pro-Sanders content on Facebook within the last several months that they believed may have links to Russian operatives or Trump supporters, according to the Journal.

Facebook reviewed the material presented by the researchers but was not able to substantiate the claims that either Russian actors or Trump supporters were involved in the inauthentic activity, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told the Journal.

"To date, we have not been able to substantiate the researcher's claims and we have not been notified by the intelligence community,” Stone told the Journal. "Had we found a campaign of coordinated inauthentic behavior, we would’ve removed it and announced it publicly, just as we did more than 50 times last year."

In October 2019, Facebook said it had removed four networks of accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and Instagram for spreading misinformation related to the 2020 U.S. presidential election as well as other political events around the world. Three of the networks were apparently connected to Iran and one was linked to Russia (see: Facebook Shuts Misleading Accounts Ahead of 2020 Election)

Foreign Interference

The issue of foreign interference is a hot topic in the run up to the 2020 U.S. presidential elections. During the 2016 election, Russia was found to have targeted election systems and infrastructure in all 50 states, according to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. The report released by the committee also said that federal officials had failed to notify state and local representatives, in spite of knowing about the Russian hacking efforts (see: Report: US Struggled to Counter 2016 Election Interference).

Last month, the FBI announced that it had created a new policy to give timely breach notifications to state and local officials in regards to any kind of election hacking and foreign interference (see: FBI Promises 'Timely' Election Breach Reports for Officials).

Along with federal agencies, social media platforms are also adjusting their policies as the 2020 U.S. presidential election gets underway. To help stop the spread of disinformation, YouTube, Google, Twitter and Facebook have all introduced various policy changes in the past year, with Twitter going as far as banning all political advertising from its platform (see: YouTube Takes Steps to Stop Spread of Election Disinformation).

About the Author

Ishita Chigilli Palli

Ishita Chigilli Palli

Senior Correspondent, Global News Desk

As senior correspondent for Information Security Media Group's global news desk, Ishita covers news worldwide. She previously worked at Thomson Reuters, where she specialized in reporting breaking news stories on a variety of topics.

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