Every day it seems we learn more and more about the tactics used by the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and today comes the startling news that at least one initiative targeted LGBTQ Americans directly.
It’s well-known by now that Russian operatives used Facebook in every way they could to shape American public opinion, from buying massive amounts of ads to creating an elaborate network of fake users.
And now it’s been reported they also formed several hundred “Group” pages, because hey, why wouldn’t they?
One of those propaganda pages, according to the Washington Post, was “LGBT United,” which claimed to speak “for all fellow members of LGBT community across the nation”.
While the page rarely posted about the election, analysts believe it was instead meant to build a base of LGBTQ American influence, and potentially drown out election coverage from actual LGBTQ media.
Jonathan Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, found that posts on the page received more than 5 million shares.
The page’s author(s), posing as a lesbian, would share pro-gay memes and posts, although there were also instances of mainstream Republicans, like Ted Cruz, getting criticized.
“The tone of the posts [from the different pages] varies strikingly… the one seemingly managed by a lesbian is intimate, confidential and chatty, with complaints about parents and teachers not understanding the challenges of being young and gay,” Albright said.
“The English is nearly flawless. One popular post said simply, ‘Bi and proud!’ with a thumbs-up emoji attached to the end.”
He added: “The goal seemed less to inspire enthusiasm for one candidate than to dampen support for voting at all.”
Every one of those posts, it should be noted, would be illegal in Russia under the nation’s so-called gay propaganda laws.
Facebook has announced that all the pages they’ve linked back to Russia have been shuttered.
Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s Vice President of Policy and Communications, discussed the latest development in a blog post.
He said: “Approximately 470 accounts and Pages we shut down recently were identified by our dedicated security team that manually investigates specific, organized threats. They found that this set of accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another — and were likely operated out of Russia.
“When we’re looking for this type of abuse, we cast a wide net in trying to identify any activity that looks suspicious. But it’s a game of cat and mouse.
“Bad actors are always working to use more sophisticated methods to obfuscate their origins and cover their tracks.
“That in turn leads us to devise new methods and smarter tactics to catch them — things like machine learning, data science and highly trained human investigators. And, of course, our internal inquiry continues.
“It’s possible that government investigators have information that could help us, and we welcome any information the authorities are willing to share to help with our own investigations.
“Using ads and other messaging to affect political discourse has become a common part of the cybersecurity arsenal for organized, advanced actors.
“This means all online platforms will need to address this issue, and get smarter about how to address it, now and in the future.”
According to the Washington Post, other Russian pages included ‘Blacktivists’, ‘United Muslims of America’, ‘Being Patriotic’, ‘Heart of Texas’ and ‘Secured Borders’.