Facebook has deleted a number of pages they say were involved in coordinated, inauthentic behaviour. (Reuters: Dado Ruvic)
Facebook’s latest move to shut down accounts involved in interference in the US democratic process has prompted concern about possible election meddling in Australia.
- More than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the fake pages
- Facebook says the pages ran about 150 ads for $11,000
- Ads created by the accounts included anti-Trump events and posters
A former cyber security expert with the US State Department today issued a stark warning to Australians: we are not immune to the threat.
Black Elevation, Mindful Being and Resisters are the names of just a few Facebook pages that had thousands of followers Facebook said were possibly linked to Russia, and involved in co-ordinated, inauthentic behaviour.
They’ve now been deleted, just before US Vice-President Mike Pence addressed a cybersecurity summit in New York.
“While other nations certainly possess the capability, the fact is Russia meddled in our 2016 election,” Mr Pence said.
“That is an unambiguous judgement of our intelligence community, and as the President said, we accept the intelligence community’s conclusion.”
Facebook said it passed on the information it had to US government and law-enforcement agencies, and suggested the accounts could have been associated with the Russia-linked Internet Research Agency.
That was yet to be confirmed, but if true, it would lead to questions around the risk to upcoming elections in other countries, like Australia.
Australia should be on guard over digital disruption
The director of UNSW Canberra Cyber, Nigel Phair, said people were more aware of what it was to be online as a digital citizen, including the impacts of sourcing news primarily from social media.
“Pleasingly, [Facebook are] doing a lot around this,” he said.
“We’re no different to any other OECD top-20 nation, so we really need to be on the front foot.
“Everyone from the Government, to our journalism outlets, to civil society [should think] about, ‘What does it mean to consume such media via social media channels?'”
But cyber security and privacy journalist Stilgherrian said the perpetrators were getting smarter.
“They’re very fast learners, so as soon as anyone publicises what they’ve found out about these people, [that] reveals how they’ve uncovered them, well that’s a trick they won’t try anymore,” he said.
“They will try and fix that hole in their operational security.”
Cyber security experts warn Australia is not immune from the type of digital disruption that occurred in the last US election. (Reuters, file photo)
Chris Painter, a former coordinator for Cyber Issues with the US State Department, said Australia would not be Russia’s primary target, but that caution was the best approach.
“Australia is a major democratic country, an ally of the US,” Mr Painter said.
“It would certainly be a target of Russia that’s trying to cause disruption and distrust — really disrupt the Western system generally.
“So I do think Australia needs to be concerned.”
How much power did these pages wield?
According to Facebook, more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the pages.
They ran about 150 ads at a cost of thousands of dollars, paid for in US and Canadian currency.
They included posts about American politics and political events, including a protest against an upcoming Unite the Right rally.
The action being taken now is part of a trend.
Suelette Dreyfus is an expert in computer security from the University of Melbourne.
“They are using both technology to automatically try and find accounts they consider to be fake accounts, as well as actually tracking a suspect with some human intervention,” Dr Dreyfus said.
“So they are trying to do the right thing here, in that they’ve posted information on their pages.
“They’ve explained what they’re doing and they’ve been pretty visible about it this time around.”