Facebook suspends account of social media executive for misleading voters in US Senate race
by Alan Weedon
Jonathan Morgan, an American social media executive who advised the US Senate on Russian hacking, is one of five people whose Facebook accounts have been suspended today.
- Jonathan Morgan is executive of social media interference consultancy New Knowledge
- Mr Morgan is accused of setting up Facebook pages to split the conservative vote
- He denies malicious intent, saying he used the pages for research only
The New York Times alleged that Mr Morgan was part a coalition of people posing as conservative Alabamians on Facebook to split the Republican vote for the 2017 special senate election.
Republican candidate Roy Moore lost to Democratic candidate Doug Jones — the first time the Democrats prevailed since 1992.
The Times’s report referenced an internal Democratic post-mortem report that revealed the operation, which included strategies such as planting the idea that Mr Moore’s campaign was amplified by Russian bots.
While the article’s authors also noted that the effect was “too small” to have had an effect on the race, Facebook has moved to penalise the activity.
A Facebook representative told the Washington Post in a statement that action was taken as it found “five accounts run by multiple individuals for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour”.
“We take a strong stand against people or organisations that create networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are or what they’re doing,” Facebook said.
“We’ve removed thousands of Pages, Groups and accounts for this kind of behaviour, as well as accounts that were violating our policies on spam and coordinated inauthentic behaviour during the Alabama special election last year.”
The organisation has been placed under increased scrutiny after its former security chief, Alex Stamos, revealed that Facebook’s leaders sought to minimise the extent of Russian manipulation of the platform.
While “fake news” isn’t wiped from Facebook, Section 18 of its community standards states that false news is shown lower in the news feed.
This however, is of no consequence if targeted misinformation flies under the radar as Facebook ads — delivered at the top of Facebook and Instagram feeds — which Russian spies exploited in the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential election.
Roy Moore, centre left, was defeated in a historic win for the Democrats in 2017. (AP: Brynn Anderson)
Executive says account was used for research
Mr Morgan is head of the social media research firm New Knowledge, an organisation that specialises in “disinformation defence”, which collaborated on a report with Columbia University and Canfield Research detailing how Russia weaponised social media in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
Mr Morgan acknowledged that he created a misleading Facebook page to appeal to conservatives in the lead-up to the election, in addition to purchasing retweets on Twitter to measure the merits of different kinds of campaign messaging.
“This was like an, ‘Is it possible,’ small-scale, almost like a thought experiment,” he told the Post.
“At the time, it seemed kind of innocuous, and a year later, with the benefit of history … maybe I would second-guess that decision now.”
The executive maintains that he used the now-suspended account as a research tool, while no New Knowledge-run pages were found to be in breach of Facebook protocols.