WORLD How fake Face­book cam­paigns lured peo­ple

Ac­count was re­cep­tive to lo­cal or­ga­niz­ers and added them as hosts of coun­ter­protest

StarMetro Edmonton - - WORLD - SAUL LOEB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE Kate Conger and Char­lie Sav­age

Face­book has been un­der in­tense pres­sure since the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion for fail­ing to de­tect for­eign med­dling on its plat­form. In late June, after word emerged that the white su­prem­a­cists who or­ga­nized last year’s deadly “Unite the Right” march in Char­lottesville, Va., had ap­plied to hold an an­niver­sary rally this month in Wash­ing­ton, a lo­cal po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist, Bren­dan Orsinger, saw that a Face­book event page had been cre­ated for a coun­ter­protest.

He rec­og­nized it as trou­ble. Lit­tle did he know just how much.

The event page was cre­ated on June 24 by a fem­i­nist-ori­ented Face­book po­lit­i­cal page called Re­sisters. On June 25, Orsinger reached out via Face­book to a Re­sisters ad­min­is­tra­tor he knew as “Mary,” whom he had mes­saged be­fore, to dis­cuss how Wash­ing­ton-based ac­tivists re­sent it when na­tional ac­tivists crowd out lo­cal or­ga­niz­ers on an event.

Orsinger gen­tly sug­gested to “Mary” that the Re­sisters “get buy-in from lo­cal DC or­ga­niz­ers of colour first,” like the lo­cal Black Lives Mat­ter chap­ter, for the coun­ter­protest, ac­cord­ing to mes­sages re­viewed by the New York Times. “Mary” ap­peared re­cep­tive, he said. So Orsinger con­nected sev­eral other Wash­ing­ton-based ac­tivist groups to help flesh out the event page the Re­sisters had started.

This week, to the shock of Orsinger and other ac­tivists, Face­book deleted the event page, in­clud­ing all their hand­i­work. On Tues­day, the com­pany sus­pended the ac­count of “Mary,” ap­par­ently deem­ing it a fake, and said the Re­sisters page was a tool in a co­or­di­nated po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence op­er­a­tion be­fore the midterm elec­tions. Face­book also no­ti­fied thou­sands of its users who had in­di­cated in­ter­est in at­tend­ing the coun­ter­protest of the sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity.

Orsinger’s ex­pe­ri­ence shows how real peo­ple con­tinue to get en­tan­gled with fake ac­counts and pages on Face­book — and the some­times sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences for them as the com­pany has tried to clamp down. Orsinger said he was in­vited into the Re­sisters page on Face­book in Jan­uary and in­ter­acted with “Mary” for months on the so­cial net­work, with­out think­ing any­thing was amiss.

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