On Facebook, ‘French’ and ‘Russian’ influence ops are the same as your Boomer aunt’s
By: Rachel Marsden
Facebook recently banned ‘inauthentic’ account networks it accused of influence operations in Africa on behalf of Russia and France. Absent any proof, though, ‘Russia’ and ‘France’ are about as authentic as your average Boomer.
Facebook has announced that it has taken new action against “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” which it defines as “when groups of pages or people working together mislead others about who they are or what they’re doing.” Sounds a lot like when you friend your Boomer aunt to ensure via her daily posts that she's still alive during the Covid-19 pandemic, only to have your timeline bombarded with her insane conspiracy theories. You struggle to reconcile the unbridled lunacy propagated by her account with the person who usually just shares words of wisdom and baking recipes with you.
Little do you know that your aunt has joined forces and found common ground with a whole network of nutjobs on Facebook who have recruited her to their cause: that of the 1st Battalion of the Facebook Boomer Brigade. You figure that there must be millions of them, judging by the number of times their insane views have been shared or liked by others. They're spewing military-grade idiocy, en masse, all over Facebook, finding common cause and subsequently coordinating with each other via group chats to ultimately convert their own followers to their worldview.
While seemingly normal in person, you realize that when your aunt sits down
in front of a computer, she’s a digital mercenary on a mission with like-minded
comrades to target the world. It’s impossible to know the backgrounds of each of
the people she coordinates with. But the bottom line is that everyone on social
media has something in their background or life that could potentially move them
to influence others to their own benefit.
By its very definition, social media is all about coordination and a lack of authenticity. How else do heavily edited salacious selfies, that take 200 tries to perfectly capture, end up ripping through cyberspace at lightspeed? Facebook attempting to purify its platform at this point is like trying to plug Niagara Falls with a Band-Aid.
Anyone who’s sick of propaganda permanently logged off Facebook a long time ago, and it wasn’t due to any purported government-attributed attempts to influence them, but rather because of the agenda-pushing by the average user. And without such avid users, Facebook has no business model. It relies on these addicts’ relentless engagement for the data collection that’s the bread and butter of the Facebook business model.
Issuing a press release selectively targeting certain accounts and insinuating, absent any technical show of work, that they’re linked to nation states – notably to the French military and to Russia, in the latest case – serves largely as a form of propaganda unto itself.
Leaving aside the lack of technical evidence to support Facebook’s
accusations, it’s no secret that France and Russia are at odds with each other
over certain African countries. The fog of war involving competing agendas of
Paris and Moscow in the Central African Republic, for example, has hardly been
ignored by the French press in recent years. It’s been discussed in major media
ad nauseum in both France and Africa. So, the general public and any Central
African citizen with an internet connection who can read already knows about it.
It’s not like people are mindless, helpless blank slates, or that Facebook posts
exist in a vacuum, divorced from all the other information freely available and
fully accessible to online users in these countries. These users whom Facebook
deems to be sitting duck targets of influence operations are bombarded with
influence operations of all kinds from Aunty and Uncle Boomer on a daily basis.
It seems that Facebook is the last to know that annoying propaganda – either
exposing oneself to it or creating it – is its entire brand at this point. The
whole platform is just people peddling nonsense or relishing in gobbling it up.
The presence of individuals who may or may not be associated with nation state influence operations on Facebook or other social media is an epiphenomenon. It’s not nation states that are responsible for the vast majority of “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” It’s the entire raison d’etre of social media platforms like Facebook at this stage. Everyone’s coordinating with and co-opting strangers in their personal and political crusades, and hardly anyone is being authentic or honest about their life. It’s a massive worldwide role-playing game.
Interestingly, Facebook never calls out US government influence operations. Perhaps it simply can’t find any. In that case, I’m happy to assist. I just found a Facebook page calling out all of America’s foes for supposed Facebook influence operations while neglecting those perpetrated by their US counterparts: https://about.fb.com/news/tag/coordinated-inauthentic-behavior/