Wednesday, 23 May 2018

What The Zuck Is Going On At Facebook?

After the furore over the Cambridge Analytica exploitation of users' information, and the now well established extent to which Russian, and other, trolls flooded the platform, we are being assured, including via TV ad campaigns, that Facebook is finally cleaning up its act to protect us. But is it?

I debate on Trump supporter pages regularly and, if my experience is any indicator, Mark Zuckerberg's assurances are simply not being borne out.

You cannot move on there for links to websites that are easily identifiable as fake, further delving into their origin via the likes of an ICANN registery search confirms they are invariably registered anonymously in Panama, Macedonia, or similar - with many showing as barely months old. This check takes me seconds using a mobile phone, I cannot believe it is beyond the ability of the trained hamsters at Facebook.

However many times these links are reported as false news they are never, or very rarely, removed. I see the same sites with different fake articles popping up time and again, and most give reason for the easily manipulated respondents to post the most offensive and ignorant bile before sharing it on - which is precisely their aim.

Then there's those posting these links. If Facebook is genuinely keen to root out this scourge they have a funny way of showing it, because they fail to remove even the most blatantly obvious of propaganda spreading trolls.

Take, for example, "Mike Vanhol". He doesn't debate, his total interaction amounts to posting links to clearly dodgy websites, ones carrying articles designed to cause hate and division.

But how do I know he is not, as his profile claims, in Delila, Virginia? The first clue would be the URL to his profile, which usually has the member's name. In his case, his name is really...

The second, equally obvious, giveaway is found in his profile's likes. Here we find plenty of cyrlic text and mention of the TV show "Backstage Macedonia"

One does not need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure this out, yet Facebook repeatedly fail to remove the account even when the above inconsistencies and his penchant for spreading dodgy links is pointed out to them in reports.

Another example, that of "Alicia James". This one, like Mike, posted nothing but dodgy links. She had even stolen her profile image from the Ronald McDonald House Charities website, where it was of a family they had helped - something the charity confirmed to me by email. All of this was reported to Facebook repeatedly, so why did it take them months and countless reports to remove it?

Then there's Donna J. Blair, another demonstrably fake profile. Her profile photo is easily found via a reverse image search to have been taken from a news article on Trump merchandise. Her profile URL has the name "servis.tiho"

Facebook repeatedly allow this troll to continue spreading propaganda even when told that Servis Tiho references a business located in Macedonia. All easily confirmed in seconds.

Take "Johnny Crawford" as a final example. His profile is suspiciously empty, he does nothing but share potentially harmful propaganda, and his profile URL reveals his real name to be... Aleksandar Swadok!

Again, alerting Facebook to this achieves nothing, however much detail you give them. These are just a few of countless examples.

So what are Facebook doing? If members are using the comment option on a report to explain IN DETAIL how it is obvious the account is fake and nothing happens then they are clearly not doing enough.

In the meantime the problem is increasing with more and more fake accounts appearing and an ever growing number of fake websites being shared. Their target audience, wanting their confirmation biases and prejudices fed, will invariably either ignore those of us trying to warn them of the problem, or will be actively hostile and attack us for daring interfere.

The real killer is that all of this is often happening on pages where even the admin are trolls from Macedonia or similar. I was booted from one such page where the entire admin team was Macedonian, their profiles didn't attempt to hide it. These pages' existence is intended to draw in the gullible to feed them fake news and propaganda to spread, and it's working.

Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook dropped the ball. They need to do more to regain control, close down these pages and trolls, and stop merely giving us empty assurances.

Thanks for reading

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