Facebook detected overseas ad farm targeting Utah midterm election

Facebook detected overseas ad farm targeting Utah midterm election

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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Facebook stopped an overseas ad farm targeting Utah’s midterm election last fall, Bloomberg News reported Friday.

An alert went off in Facebook’s election war room at 11:24 a.m. in mid-October indicating political news in a Utah congressional district wasn’t coming from inside the U.S. — a mismatch Facebook had tuned its software algorithms to detect.

“A data scientist in the election monitoring center at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, inspected the activity manually and discovered, at 11:47 a.m., that the source spreading the content was an ad farm in Bangladesh. Ten minutes later, an operations specialist removed all the suspect activity,” according to the Bloomberg story.

Facebook executives shared the story in a recent slideshow presentation in Paris to show the company’s cyber detection tools are effective when working correctly.

Bloomberg News viewed the slides and reported that they show in detail how Facebook has improved its process for rooting out bad actors using tactics similar to those Russian operatives used in 2016.

"The message: Facebook will be more prepared to take on misinformation and meddling in this year’s elections — in India, the Philippines, Ukraine, Thailand and other countries — as well as the U.S. presidential race in 2020," according to the story.

Justin Lee, Utah elections director, said he didn't have any more details about the apparent attempt to interfere in the election. But he said Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies do a good job of reaching out to the states when something comes up.

"This isn't a particular one that rings a bell, but I know we've seen other threats and been in communication about them," he said. "They picked one as an example, although there's certainly been other threats that have come in that our team and their teams have worked through."

Lee said he's scheduled to talk with Facebook next week about how communication with the compnay looks going forward. The state can also report suspicious activity to social made companies, he said."This is kind of part of the new world that we live in, that we all watch this stuff," he said.

In the run-up to Utah's primary election last summer, state digital security experts monitored traffic that rose as high as 1 billion attempts at suspicious activities, though not all of it was actual hacking.

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's entry into the U.S. Senate race last year coupled with his negative views of Russia made the Utah ballot more of a target, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said at the time.

Cox, who oversees state elections, told Utah voters that even amid unprecedented levels of hacking attempts, they could have confidence that their ballots would be accurately tabulated.

The state allocated millions of dollars along with federal assistance to beef up security measures, including the new voting machine technology, upgrades to the voter registration database protections and partnerships to bolster digital resistance to infiltration and disruption of the election process.

Dennis Romboy


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