The 2018 Facebook Midterms, Part II: Shadow Organizing

Jonathan Albright in Medium:

In 2016, in our discussions about Facebook and the election, we tended to focus mostly on Pages. And paid “ads.” Well, it’s 2018, and this time around, we have another problem to talk about: Facebook Groups. In my extensive look into Facebook, introduced in the previous post, I’ve found that groups have become the preferred base for coordinated information influence activities on the platform. This is a shift that reflects the product’s most important advantage: the posts and activities of the actors who join them are hidden within the Group. Well, at least until they choose to share them.

Inside these political Groups, numbering anywhere from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands of users, activities are perfectly obscured. However, as I will show, the effects of these activities can be significant. The individual posts, photos, events, and files shared within these groups are generally not discoverable through the platform’s standard search feature, or through the APIs that allow content to be retrieved from public Facebook pages. Yet once the posts leave these groups, they can gain traction and initiate large-scale information-seeding and political influence campaigns.

As a result, the actors who used to operate on Pages have now colonized Groups and use them more than ever. This analysis found disinformation and conspiracies being seeded across hundreds of different groups, most falling into what would best be described as political “astroturfing.”

Yes, Facebook groups will end in tears too.