Prior to the 2020 election, nearly all of the top Christian pages on Facebook in 2019 were being operated by East European troll farms, according to internal documents that were leaked to MIT Technology Review.
A former Facebook employee leaked a report written in October 2019 that was obtained by MIT Technology Review and what it contained was shocking…
Eastern European troll farms were gaming Facebook’s algorithms and reaching nearly half of all Americans, connecting with some 140 million US users a month. In particular, they were also operating the most popular pages for Christian and African-American content, especially during the run-up to the 2020 election.
According to the documents leaked by the Facebook employee, who was not involved in researching it, Facebook found that after the 2016 election, it failed to prioritize fundamental changes to the way the platform promoted and distributed information. Instead, Facebook used a “whack-a-mole” strategy that focused on monitoring and stopping the activity of bad actors when they engaged in political discourse. They added some safeguards that prevented “the worst of the worst.”
According to the leaked report, 19 out of 20 of the top Christian pages on Facebook in October 2019, were operated by Eastern European troll farms.
Here’s a list of the top pages in order:
1. Be happy enjoy life
2. Jesus is my Lord
3. You can
4. Speak loudly
5. Purpose of life
6. Positive quotes
7. Memories of a loved one
8. Smile & shine
9. In light of the world
10. Why not us?
11. Happiness is in your mind
12. My life
13. Life is beautiful
15. Conscious reminder
18. Simply beautiful
19 motivational quotes & videos
20. Light-candle for a lost love one
It’s important to designate that, for the most part, people who saw and engaged with the posts from the trolls on Christian pages didn’t actually “like” them. The trolls manipulated Facebook’s algorithms so that users were sent to pages Facebook “thought” they would want to see.
Divisive posts are more likely to reach a large audience, and troll farms used this is engagement-hungry algorithm of Facebook to spread provocative information and expand its online reach.
The report revealed that although Facebook was aware of the troll farms and the manipulation of Americans in 2016, the company did little to address the issue. The study found that these troll farms were targeting the same audience Russia attempted to manipulate in 2016, Relevant Magazine reported.
“Our platform has given the largest voice in the Christian American community to a handful of bad actors, who, based on their media production practices, have never been to church,” wrote the report’s author, Jeff Allen, formerly a senior-level data scientist at Facebook. “We have empowered inauthentic actors to accumulate huge followings for largely unknown purposes.”
This information coming to light becomes problematic when you consider that, back in July, Facebook announced it was launching a massive effort to partner with the religious community by announcing global faith partnerships.
“Faith organizations and social media are a natural fit because fundamentally both are about connection,” said Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, according to the Western Journal.
“I just want people to know that Facebook is a place where, when they do feel discouraged or depressed or isolated, that they could go to Facebook and they could immediately connect with a group of people that care about them,” said Facebook’s global faith partnerships director, Nona Jones, in an interview with the Times.