August 16, 2018  |  Updated September 13, 2018

#TrollTracker: Russian Traces in Facebook Takedown-Part Two: Influence operation sought to translate online engagement to real world action

By Aric Toler

On July 31, Facebook announced the removal of around 32 pages and accounts on its platform for coordinated and inauthentic behavior.

Facebook first shared eight pages with @DFRLab 24 hours before the takedown, and our initial findings were published within that timeframe.

The pattern of behavior by the accounts and on the pages in question make one thing abundantly clear: they sought to promote divisions and set Americans against one another. Their approach, tactics, language, and content were, in some instances, very similar to accounts run by the Russian “troll farm” or Internet Research Agency between 2014 and 2017.

The malign influence operation showed increasing sophistication. Three follow-up aspects to our initial findings include converting online engagement to real world action, shifting tactics to cover tracks, and crossover posting of content from bad actors on different platforms or accounts.

@DFRLab intends to make every aspect of our research broadly available. The effort is part of our #ElectionWatch work and a broader initiative to provide independent and credible research about the role of social media in elections, as well as democracy more generally.

This post investigates how the set of pages Facebook took down on July 31 had a tailored focus on building a mostly static online audience then translating it kinetic political activity in the United States.

According to Facebook, the eight pages and seventeen accounts taken down boasted thousands of posts and hundreds of thousands of followers. The most prolific and noteworthy pages was that of “Resisters”, which created 27 event pages between March 2017 and July 2018.

A number of the event pages led to protests that had hundreds of actual attendees; however, these 27 events had mixed outcomes regarding how significant Resisters was in influencing turnout when compared to legitimate social activists organizing on the same event pages.

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