Cyber-espionage is a whole new ballgame for spies and governments alike

DENVER – In the most extensive effort to interfere in American politics that Facebook has found ahead of November’s midterm elections, the social media giant has removed 32 pages of suspected Russian-linked accounts that were being used to organize political events across the U.S.

“This sort of new cyber-espionage is the whole new ballgame for spies and for governments and for non-governments alike because they see how easy it is to access a wide group of people,” TheDenverChannel.com’s Blair Miller told Anne Trujillo on this weekend’s Politics Unplugged.

In briefings on Capitol Hill, CNN says Facebook told lawmakers it suspects a Russian group is behind more than 30 pages advocating U.S. political stances. One page promoted a "No Unite the Right 2" march -- a counter demonstration to a planned "Unite the Right" event to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the march in Charlottesville in which a woman was killed. There was also an effort to amplify the "Abolish ICE" message pushed by liberals. But many of the accounts were non-descript.

“They weren’t overtly political or partisan sort of group,” said Brian Keegan, an assistant professor of information science University of Colorado Boulder. “In some ways they were all different kinds of stereotypes that people may have about some of the extremes of people on the left… we’re not going to be pro-trump or anti-Hillary, it’s trying to sell more fear, uncertainty and doubt.”

Facebook says it does not know for sure who is behind the network, but says it has found some evidence of connections between these accounts and those run by Russian trolls in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

“In theory it could be anyone,” said Miller. “I guess I wouldn't be surprised if even the Americans were doing this in other places.” 

“I think the cost of doing this kind of activity is extremely low,” said Keegan. “If you’re thinking about how you take on a trillion-dollar military with the U.S. and achieve your same strategic objective with a million dollars of ads and bots, that’s like a million time return on your investment.”

Politics Unplugged airs Sundays at 4:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Denver7 and noon on K3-KCDO.

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