Tipped by an independent cybersecurity firm, Facebook says it has dismantled new attempts to influence Americans by online interests in both Iran and Russia.
Mark Zuckerberg says his outfit took down 652 pages and accounts with Iranian ties for showing “coordinated inauthentic behavior” aimed at internet services in the U.S., Middle East, U.K. and Latin America. Separately, Zuckerberg said Facebook had taken down an unspecified additional number of similar accounts and pages with now-familiar ties to Russian intelligence agencies.
You can tell Facebook takes this stuff seriously now after the 2016 debacle, because it put its chief executive officer on a conference call to tout its belated actions, which were prompted by a tip from FireEye, a U.S. cybersecurity firm.
We’ve been investigating some of these campaigns for months now, which highlights the tension we face in every investigation between removing bad actors quickly and improving our defenses over time. Because if we remove them too early, it’s harder to understand their playbook and the extent of their network. It can also make it harder for law enforcement.
Also Tuesday, Twitter said it had taken down 284 accounts for “coordinated manipulation” appearing to originate in Iran.
FireEye said the Facebook content was promoting Iranian political interests with anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian themes and advocating for U.S. policies favorable to Iran. Lucky we didn’t fall for that. (Sarc)
Such online efforts to attempt to influence U.S. opinion and perhaps elections have become red-hot media issues. The slightest hint of malevolent monsters from abroad online excites many into a flurry of worry.
Here’s my problem with what isn’t far from the kind of inchoate hysteria we see over other invisible demons like sharks lurking near beaches and radiation:
Government agencies need to explain much better in far greater detail exactly what the specific threats are, beyond there being faceless foreign gnomes seeking to influence 323 million Americans, who aren’t paying much attention anyway. You don’t think U.S. companies and pols operate coordinated accounts?
Because, good job, Facebook. But these are only 684 of Facebook’s 2.23 billion active monthly users and 284 of Twitter’s 335 million active users. If these bad actors are phishing to get into my contacts file for an Instagram password, I forget it and must reset it every week.
And if each of those bad actors puts out a dozen fake news stories every single day, they would be completely and instantly lost in the hourly avalanche of unadulterated, unsubstantiated crap that already flows through our online life these days. (Present company excepted.) And since when did Americans suddenly start falling for even the fakest of fake news?
My other question is, why are we as a nation being so passive in the face of constant assaults by China, North Korea and others with scores of successful and serious security breaches online? How about a little online retaliation to show such meddling is not without costs?
If you suggest we already are but it has to be secret, then I’d chuckle and reply, well, it ain’t working very well. And if you’re worried like many in D.C. about their hacking us back, well, sounds like they already are!