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Russian propaganda ‘shared using LGBT+ pages during 2016 US election’

Gay Americans were reportedly targeted by the Russians with a propaganda campaign on Facebook.

New research suggests that Russia paid the social media giant to promote posts and pages targeted at specific voter groups of people during the 2016 US election.

One of the pages operated by the Russian propaganda campaign network was LGBT United.

The page claimed to be a voice “for all fellow members of the LGBT community across the nation.”

It is one of six pages named by the Washington Post that was reportedly used to target US citizens.

The others were Blacktivists, United Muslims of America, Being Patriotic, Heart of Texas and Secured Borders.

via Flickr

Related: Human rights activist questioned by Russian police after posting pro-LGBT articles on Facebook

LGBT United received more than 5 million shares for the content it posted, according to social media analyst Jonathan Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

Despite the page rarely posting about the 2016 US election, it’s suspected that its main function was to ‘drown out’ election coverage from other legitimate sources.

“The tone of the posts [from the different pages] varies strikingly… the one seemingly managed by a lesbian is intimate, confidential and chatty, with complaints about parents and teachers not understanding the challenges of being young and gay,” said Albright.

“The English is nearly flawless. One popular post said simply, ‘Bi and proud!’ with a thumbs-up emoji attached to the end.

“The goal seemed less to inspire enthusiasm for one candidate than to dampen support for voting at all.”

On Monday, Facebook addressed the issue in a new blog by Vice President of Policy and Communications, Elliot Schrage.

“Approximately 470 accounts and Pages we shut down recently were identified by our dedicated security team that manually investigates specific, organized threats,” he said.

“They found that this set of accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another — and were likely operated out of Russia.”

Schrage also warned that there could be more of these pages yet to be discovered.

Related: Facebook, YouTube and Twitter commit to ‘hate speech’ crackdown in EU

“When we’re looking for this type of abuse, we cast a wide net in trying to identify any activity that looks suspicious. But it’s a game of cat and mouse.

“Bad actors are always working to use more sophisticated methods to obfuscate their origins and cover their tracks.

“That in turn leads us to devise new methods and smarter tactics to catch them — things like machine learning, data science and highly trained human investigators. And, of course, our internal inquiry continues.

He added: “It’s possible that government investigators have information that could help us, and we welcome any information the authorities are willing to share to help with our own investigations.

“Using ads and other messaging to affect political discourse has become a common part of the cybersecurity arsenal for organized, advanced actors.

“This means all online platforms will need to address this issue, and get smarter about how to address it, now and in the future.”

Facebook reported last month that they had discovered approximately $100,000 in advertisement spending from June 2015 to May 2017, associated with around 3,000 ads believed to be from Russian pages.

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