US Congress Asks Facebook: What Role Did Fake Accounts Abroad Play in Promoting Canadian Convoys?

This article is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents on US politics and developments affecting Canadians.

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US politicians are demanding details from Facebook about the number of fake online accounts created by foreign actors that helped promote Canada’s convoy protests.

The chairman of the most powerful investigative body in the US House of Representatives this week sent a letter to company founder Mark Zuckerberg search for information about inauthentic activity.

New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney posed nine questions to Zuckerberg about the extent to which fake accounts from abroad helped organizers spread the word.

The questions relate to the number of fake accounts identified by Facebook linked to the “Freedom Convoy”; when he determined they were wrong; how many people have viewed this content; what country he is from; in which countries it has spread; and how much money Facebook has made from related ads.

What is the context

The letter is alarmed at reports that Facebook had discovered that some groups promoting convoys had been created by fake user profiles, which were set up in content farms in Vietnam, Bangladesh and Romania.

She identified Russia as having used fake social media profiles in the past to spread content that polarized Americans, a practice described in a chapter of the Muller report in interference in the 2016 US election.

“These reports are particularly alarming given Facebook’s history of amplifying toxic content, extremism and misinformation, including from Russian and other foreign actors,” Maloney, chairman, wrote. of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, in a letter dated Feb. 14.

WATCH | Transporting protesters manipulated by foreign agents, says a cybersecurity expert:

Transporting protesters manipulated by foreign agents, says cybersecurity expert

Protests in support of the so-called Freedom Convoy 2022 are taking place across the country, and cybersecurity expert David Shipley believes those involved are led by foreign agents. 3:39

“The use of fake, stolen or inauthentic accounts has become a common technique among those promoting disinformation campaigns and social engineering efforts, especially foreign entities.

“Russia operated Facebook accounts and pages to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including using stolen identities of Americans. These Russian-operated accounts and pages saw their content shared hundreds of millions times before the election.”

A former State Department and Defense Department official under George W. Bush, Kristofer Harrison, said in an interview that Russia uses bogus profiles to promote all kinds of polarizing content across the political spectrum, from Black Lives Matter and police funding to white supremacists and yellow vest protests.

“They just want the loudest mess possible,” said Harrison, a Russian analyst.

Mounted police rode next to the Rideau Center on Friday amid continued protests in Ottawa. The protests received a lot of real human support, closer to home, attracting record crowdfunding donations from Canada and the United States. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

And after

There is no evidence of Russian involvement in Canada. Or any state actor involved in promoting the convoy protests, which eventually received record donations from thousands of real people, mostly in Canada and the United States.

Facebook told NBC News earlier this month that it had removed some pro-conveyance groups run by foreign actors. They didn’t say how much and from where.

We could hear more if Facebook responds to questions from Democrats in the US Congress, and both sides have expressed hope for cooperation.

The committee is confident Facebook will provide the information, a Washington source said. Facebook, meanwhile, confirmed to CBC News that it had received the letter and would respond in writing.

The social media giant said it was also looking forward to meeting with committee staff to answer their questions and provide updates on the matter.