WORLD How fake Facebook campaigns lured people
Account was receptive to local organizers and added them as hosts of counterprotest
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.