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Meta Releases New Insights into its Evolving Efforts to Detect Coordinated Manipulation Programs

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Meta Releases New Insights into its Evolving Efforts to Detect Coordinated Manipulation Programs


Meta has shared some new insights into its ongoing efforts to combat coordinated misinformation networks operating across its platforms, which became a major focus for the company following the 2016 US Election, and the revelations that Russian-backed teams had sought to sway the opinions of American voters.

As explained by Meta:

Since 2017, we’ve reported on over 150 influence operations with details on each network takedown so that people know about the threats we see – whether they come from nation states, commercial firms or unattributed groups. Information sharing enabled our teams, investigative journalists, government officials and industry peers to better understand and expose internet-wide security risks, including ahead of critical elections.

Meta publishes a monthly round-up of the networks that it’s detected and removed, via automated, user-reported, and other collaborative means, which has broadened its net in working to catch out these groups.

And some interesting trends have emerged in Meta’s enforcement data over time – first off, Meta has provided this overview of where the groups that it has detected and taken action on have originated from.

As you can see, while there have been various groups detected within Russia’s borders, there’s also been a cluster of activity originating from Iran and the surrounding regions, while more recently, Meta has taken action against several groups operating in Mexico.

But even more interesting is Meta’s data on the regions that these groups have been targeting, with a clear shift away from foreign interference, and towards domestic misinformation initiatives.

Meta CIB enforcement over time

As shown in these charts, there’s been a significant move away from international pushes, with localized operations becoming more prevalent, at least in terms of what Meta’s teams have been able to detect.

Which is the other side of the research – those looking to utilize Meta’s platforms for such purpose are always evolving their tactics, in order to avoid detection, and it could be that more groups are still operating outside of Meta’s scope, so this may not be a complete view of misinformation campaign trends, as such.

But Meta has been upping its game, and it does appear to be paying off, with more coordinated misinformation pushes being caught out, and more action being taken to hold perpetrators accountable, in an effort to disincentivize similar programs in future.

But really, it’s going to keep happening. Facebook has reach to almost 3 billion people, while Instagram has over a billion users (reportedly now over 2 billion, though Meta has not confirmed this), and that’s before you consider WhatsApp, which has more than 2 billion users in its own right. At such scale, each of these platforms offers a massive opportunity for amplification of politically-motivated messaging, and while bad actors are able to tap into the amplification potential that each app provides, they will continue to seek ways to do so.

Which is a side effect of operating such popular networks, and one that Meta, for a long time, had either overlooked or refused to see. Most social networks were founded on the principle of connecting the world, and bringing people together, and that core ethos is what motivates all of their innovations and processes, with a view to a better society through increased community understanding, in global terms.

That’s an admirable goal, but the flip side of that is that social platforms also enable those with bad motivations to also connect and establish their own networks, and expand their potentially dangerous messaging throughout the same networks.

The clash of idealism and reality has often seemed to flummox social platform CEOs, who, again, would prefer to see the potential good over all else. Crypto networks are now in a similar boat, with massive potential to connect the world, and bring people together, but equally, the opportunity to facilitate money laundering, large-scale scams, tax evasion and potentially worse.

Getting the balance right is difficult, but as we now know, through experience, the impacts of failing to see these gaps can be significant.

Which is why these efforts are so important, and it’s interesting to note both the increasing push from Meta’s teams, and the evolution in tactics from bad actors.

My view? Localized groups, after learning how Russian groups sought to influence the US election, have sought to utilize the same tactics on a local level, meaning that past enforcement has also inadvertently highlighted how Meta’s platforms can be used for such purpose.

That’s likely to continue to be the case moving forward, and hopefully, Meta’s evolving actions will ensure better detection and removal of these initiatives before they can take effect.

You can read Meta’s Coordinated Misinformation Report for December 2021 here.



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The Most Visited Websites in the World – 2023 Edition [Infographic]

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The Most Visited Websites in the World - 2023 Edition [Infographic]

Google remains the most-visited website in the world, while Facebook is still the most frequented social platform, based on web traffic. Well, actually, YouTube is, but YouTube’s only a partial social app, right?

The findings are displayed in this new visualization from Visual Capitalist, which uses SimilarWeb data to show the most visited websites in bubble chart format, highlighting the variance in traffic.

As you can see, following Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the next most visited social platforms, which is likely in line with what most would expect – though the low numbers for TikTok probably stand out, given its dominance of modern media zeitgeist.

But there is a reason for that – this data is based on website visits, not app usage, so platforms like TikTok and Snapchat, which are primarily focused on the in-app experience, won’t fare as well in this particular overview.

In that sense, it’s interesting to see which social platforms are engaging audiences via their desktop offerings.

You can check out the full overview below, and you can read Visual Capitalist’s full explainer here.

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Cheeky branding wins (and missteps)

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Cheeky branding wins (and missteps)

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Branding and rebranding is getting more fun, here we look at some of cheekiest brands that have caught our eye – for the right and wrong reasons.



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Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

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Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

Over the past year, Google has repeatedly noted that a China-based group has been looking to use YouTube, in particular, to influence western audiences, by building various channels in the app, then seeding them with pro-China content.

There’s limited info available on the full origins or intentions of the group, but today, Google has published a new overview of its ongoing efforts to combat the initiative, called DRAGONBRIDGE.

As explained by Google:

In 2022, Google disrupted over 50,000 instances of DRAGONBRIDGE activity across YouTube, Blogger, and AdSense, reflecting our continued focus on this actor and success in scaling our detection efforts across Google products. We have terminated over 100,000 DRAGONBRIDGE accounts in the IO network’s lifetime.

As you can see in this chart, DRAGONBRIDGE is by far the most prolific source of coordinated information operations that Google has detected over the past year, while Google also notes that it’s been able to disrupt most of the project’s attempted influence, by snuffing out its content before it gets seen.

Dragonbridge

Worth noting the scale too – as Google notes, DRAGONBRIDGE has created more than 100,000 accounts, which includes tens of thousands of YouTube channels. Not individual videos, entire channels in the app, which is a huge amount of work, and content, that this group is producing.

That can’t be cheap, or easy to keep running. So they must be doing it for a reason.

The broader implication, which has been noted by various other publications and analysts, is that DRAGONBRIDGE is potentially being supported by the Chinese Government, as part of a broader effort to influence foreign policy approaches via social media apps. 

Which, at this kind of scale, is a concern, while DRAGONBRIDGE has also targeted Facebook and Twitter as well, at different times, and it could be that their efforts on those platforms are also reaching similar activity levels, and may not have been detected as yet.

Which then also relates to TikTok, a Chinese-owned app that now has massive influence over younger audiences in western nations. If programs like this are already in effect, it stands to reason that TikTok is also likely a key candidate for boosting the same, which remains a key concern among regulators and officials in many nations.

The US Government is reportedly weighing a full TikTok ban, and if that happens, you can bet that many other nations will follow suit. Many government organizations are also banning TikTok on official devices, based on advice from security experts, and with programs like DRAGONBRIDGE also running, it does seem like Chinese-based groups are actively operating influence and manipulation programs in foreign nations.

Which seems like a significant issue, and while Google is seemingly catching most of these channels before they have an impact, it also seems likely that this is only one element of a larger push.

Hopefully, through collective action, the impact of such can be limited – but for TikTok, which still reports to Chinese ownership, it’s another element that could raise further questions and scrutiny.

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