Spoiler alert: Facebook’s failure to prevent the foreign promotion of anti-vax trucker convoys got the ball rolling for Fox News.
On Friday, NBC News’ Ben Collins reported on the astroturfing of Facebook groups to promote an anti-vax U.S. trucker convoy protest similar to the one in Canada.
Some Facebook groups that have promoted American “trucker convoys” similar to demonstrations that have clogged roads in Ottawa are being run by fake accounts tied to content mills in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Romania and several other countries, Facebook officials told NBC News on Friday.
The groups are gaming the Facebook algorithms:
Researchers at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy first noted that large pro-Trump groups had been changing their names to go with convoy-related themes earlier this week. Grid News reported on Friday that one major trucker convoy Facebook group was being run by a Bangladesh content farm.
Many of the groups have changed names multiple times, going from those that tap hot-button political issues such as support for former President Donald Trump or opposition to vaccine mandates, to names with keywords like “trucker,” “freedom” and “convoy.” Facebook allows groups on its platforms to change names but tracks the changes in each page’s “about” section.
The point of renaming larger groups is not only to retain and spam the already-existing community but to also appear higher in Facebook’s search and recommendations bar, which helps lend credibility to those curious about the movement.
Facebook said it would “continue to monitor the situation” for more inauthentic activity.
But the damage has been done.
Also on Friday, the president of Media Matters, Angelo Carusone, explained on MSNBC how Fox picked up the Facebook ball and ran with it to the next virality point:
CARUSONE: Well, in a way, they're carrying – they're picking up where the disinformation left off. I mean, part of the idea of employing these content mills and these content farms - the same way that Donald Trump hired actors for his campaign announcement right - is that you wanna have a good start.
And what they demonstrated at the end of January with, you know – these pages were going from 5 to 15 to 100,000 in you know, thirty hours. So it felt like there was excitement around it. And once you have enough of that happening, and you put enough, you know, stuff online, and it looks like there's some activity taking place, Fox then picks it up and legitimizes it.
So it went from an online movement that was largely propped up by these synthetic and fake accounts to now Fox starts to build some real buzz and demand. In the same way that the tea party movement started all the way back in the day. Right? There was a couple, there were some murmurs, a little bit of astroturfing, Fox then spent a month talking about it. All of a sudden it became real, real people came out. And so that's why Fox is talking about it because they basically fell for the same thing.
They – Facebook let this happen. They only took it down well after the story had metastasized. But by then it was too late, because it sort of became real once those numbers got up there and there was enough, you know, the pump was primed.
I believe Carusone is exactly right. But I also suspect Fox was likely more pro-active than we know in hyping this story than just taking a cue from the popularity of right-wing Facebook posts.
You can watch Carusone below, from MSNBC’s February 11, 2022 Ayman, via Media Matters.