Troll farms peddling misinformation on Facebook reached 140 million Americans monthly ahead of the 2020 presidential election, report finds

facebook accenture content moderators AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 5: Content moderators work at a Facebook office in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ilana Panich-Linsman for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Content moderators work at a Facebook office in Austin, Texas.

  • Troll farms were building massive audiences and peddling misinformation and propaganda ahead of the 2020 presidential election, a report says.
  • Facebook’s design and algorithms helped spread the troll farm content, MIT Technology Review said.
  • The social media platform has struggled to squash disinformation campaigns since the 2016 presidential election.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Troll farms creating propaganda and misinformation on Facebook reached about 140 million Americans a month in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, according to an internal company report obtained by MIT Technology Review.

The report came out in 2019 as part of an almost two-year effort to understand troll farm activity on the platform and was recently given to MIT Technology by a former employee not involved in researching it.

The social media company failed to clamp down on misinformation and troll farm content after the 2016 election, the report found.

The company “pursued a whack-a-mole strategy that involved monitoring and quashing the activity of bad actors when they engaged in political discourse, and adding some guardrails that prevented ‘the worst of the worst,’ MIT Technology Review said.

By 2020, troll farms, or groups that work together to create and dissemenate false information online, “were still building massive audiences by running networks of Facebook pages,” the MIT report said.

15,000 pages viewed by a US-majority audience were run out of Kosovo and Macedonia, who engaged in disinformation campaigns during the 2016 election. Collectively, the troll farm pages reached 140 million US users monthly and 360 million global users weekly in late 2019 as Americans prepared to vote in one of the most frought US presidential elections in history.

“This is not normal. This is not healthy,” wrote Jeff Allen, a former senior-level data scientist at Facebook who authored the report. “We have empowered inauthentic actors to accumulate huge followings for largely unknown purposes.”

The troll farm pages churned out content for the largest Christian American page on the site reaching 75 million US users a month, the largest African-American page at 30 million users a month, the second-largest Native American page at 400,000 users a month, and the fifth-largest women’s page on the site at 60 million users a month.

A majority of the users who viewed this content had never followed these pages.

Facebook did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment about the report. Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesperson, told MIT Technology Review the company has “stood up teams, developed new policies, and collaborated with industry peers to address these networks. We’ve taken aggressive enforcement actions against these kinds of foreign and domestic inauthentic groups and have shared the results publicly on a quarterly basis.”

Since 2016, bad actors have successfully spread American election conspiracies and COVID-19 misinformation multiple times. Politicians and regulators have criticized Facebook and other platforms’ inability to limit foreign interference. Researchers and technology rights advocates have provided their own resources to battle disinformation online, but most companies have opted to use their in-house misinformation algorithms.

Facebook itself has tried to provide more transparency in their content moderation practices, but their current approach – using algorithms to flag possible bad content and having human reviewers look at this content case-by-case – has been criticized as more of a band-aid solution than a permanent one.

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Melania Trump agreed with her husband that ‘John McCain isn’t a war hero,’ a former aide says

Melania and Donald Trump Rose Garden
Former President Donald Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump.

  • Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign looked finished when he said McCain wasn’t a “war hero.”
  • Pundits and conservative talk show hosts said he had to apologize or he was out.
  • But his wife agreed with Trump, his former campaign manager Cory Lewandowski told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former first lady Melania Trump shared her husband’s low opinion of the late Republican Sen. John McCain’s military record.

She agreed with then-candidate Donald Trump when he said during a 2016 GOP primary event in Iowa that the Arizona senator was “not a war hero,” according to Trump’s former campaign manager Cory Lewandowski.

Lewandowski, who spoke to Insider as part of an oral history project on Trump’s takeover of the GOP, said he and Trump met up with Melania Trump in New Jersey as political pundits and conservative talk-show hosts were saying Trump had to apologize. He thought the comment would end Trump’s campaign.

“As we walked in the door, Mrs. Trump was waiting for us,” Lewandowski said. “She said: ‘You’re right. John McCain isn’t a war hero. What he has done for the veterans has been shameful.'”

Read more: The definitive oral history of how Trump took over the GOP, as told to us by Cruz, Rubio, and 20 more insiders

Michael Cohen, who worked during the 2016 campaign as Trump’s personal attorney, acknowledged to Insider as part of the oral history project that Melania Trump wasn’t shy about sharing her thoughts to her husband.

“Melania played a very limited role during the campaign not believing Donald would actually win,” Cohen said. “However, when directly asked for her opinion on a matter by Donald, she offered it readily.”

A spokesperson for Melania Trump did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump attacked McCain in July 2015 during the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, in the first of several moments when it looked like Trump’s campaign was over before it had even really begun. McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

“He’s not a war hero,” Trump told the moderator Frank Luntz. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Trump’s gripes about McCain continued after his death on August 25, 2018. Trump was not invited to the funeral, although former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush both delivered eulogies.

When McCain died, Melania Trump tweeted, “Our thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathy to the McCain Family. Thank you Senator McCain for your service to the nation.”

A day later, her husband broke his silence on McCain’s death and tweeted, “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!”

To read the full Trump oral history story, click here.

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Trump aides told him over a McDonald’s meal to stop bitching about losing in Iowa to Ted Cruz in 2016

President Donald Trump admiring fast food at the White House.
President Donald Trump talks to the media about the table full of fast food in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, for the reception for the Clemson Tigers.

  • Trump was told over a McDonald’s meal to stop whining and get his act together after losing the 2016 GOP Iowa caucuses.
  • “If he wants to continue to bitch about the results in Iowa … this race was over,” Corey Lewandowski said he warned Trump at the time.
  • Lewandowski and 21 other insiders spoke to Insider for its definitive history of Trump becoming the king of the GOP.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It’s long been known that former President Donald Trump has an affinity for fast food.

His love affair with burgers and fries also features prominently in a key part of the story into how Trump aides thought he was on the verge of nearly blowing his chance of becoming the Republican presidential nominee in 2016.

Upset about losing the Republican Iowa caucuses in 2016 to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the future president’s aides placated him over a McDonald’s meal in New Hampshire.

“I called the grown children – Don, Eric, and Ivanka – told them what was happening, brought Mr. Trump in, and, over a meal of McDonald’s in the back room of our Manchester office, told him that if he wants to continue to bitch about the results in Iowa and not lay out his vision for what he wanted to achieve for America to the people in New Hampshire, this race was over,” Corey Lewandowski, who was Trump’s 2016 campaign manager at the time, told Insider in the definitive oral history of how his boss took over the GOP.

Read more: The definitive oral history of how Trump took over the GOP, as told to us by Cruz, Rubio, and 20 more insiders

Insider spoke with nearly two dozen insiders who had front-row seats for Trump’s ascent to king of the party.

“It was a very candid conversation, it was just he and I in the room,” Lewandowski added. “He listened intently. You walked out of that room. He went to a town-hall meeting with CNN that afternoon and Manchester. He came and ran a positive message.”

Trump would go on to win the New Hampshire Republican primary.

After he lost in Iowa in 2016, Trump made it no secret that he was enraged. Offering a preview of how he would eventually respond to losing the 2020 election, Trump accused Cruz of fraud.

“Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!” Trump said in a February 2016 tweet.

Throughout the 2016 campaign cycle, Trump relentlessly attacked Cruz – often referring to him as “Lyin’ Ted.” At one point, the former reality TV star alleged that Cruz’s father was linked to John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Trump also insulted the appearance of Heidi Cruz, the Texas Republican’s wife. Cruz responded to the attack in a tweet, stating, “Donald, real men don’t attack women. Your wife is lovely, and Heidi is the love of my life.”

Though Cruz and Trump frequently butted heads during the 2016 campaign season, the Texas senator swiftly morphed into a close ally of real-estate mogul-turned-politician once he was in the White House. The drastic shift in the dynamic between the two was emblematic of how Trump rapidly consolidated power in the GOP and demanded loyalty.

To read the full Trump oral history story, click here.

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Leaked Kremlin documents reportedly show Putin wanted to sow chaos in the US by supporting Trump. He succeeded.

a close-up of putin's face with a slight smile
Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • Leaked documents purportedly from the Kremlin claim that Putin planned to sow discord by supporting Trump.
  • The reported Russian plan worked remarkably well.
  • Sparking dissent and division is a new way to attack democracies around the world.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Leaked documents reportedly from the Kremlin suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a concerted effort to sow chaos in the US with a plan to “facilitate” Donald Trump winning the presidency in 2016.

The plan worked.

In the biggest upset in modern political history, Trump stunned America and the world to become the 45th president of the US. And it was just as divisive as Putin reportedly desired.

The documents, which The Guardian first reported on, serve as an eye-opener as to how Putin capitalized on the divisiveness of American politics leading up to the contentious presidential election, and sowed dissent to further those divides.

According to the papers, Russian officials believed a Trump win would cause internal turmoil in the US and weaken the nation on the world stage. Putin approved a bold plan to use “all possible force” to help move Trump toward victory, the documents say.

The resounding success of Russia’s reported plan shows that hostile nation-states no longer need to send in tanks or flex military muscle to disrupt democracies. Instead, they can just nudge citizens toward discord and then let the countries tear themselves apart from the inside.

Putin apparently understood a harsh truth – that America’s people could be used as a weapon against it.

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Pelosi says in new book that Trump’s 2016 victory felt ‘like a mule kicking you in the back over and over again’

Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) arrives for an event on Capitol Hill on April 14, 2021.

  • After Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, Nancy Pelosi said that Trump’s victory was “stunningly scary.”
  • “How could they elect such a person – who talked that way about women,” she wondered.
  • Trump’s win drove Pelosi to stay in the House and continue her work in Washington.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In 2016, then-Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California was looking forward to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ascension to the White House.

In “Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power,” an upcoming book about Pelosi’s life written by biographer and USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page, Pelosi described how Clinton winning the election would have secured hard-fought legislative victories, including the Affordable Care Act.

Pelosi, then 76, saw herself spending time with her nine grandchildren and enjoying her retirement years.

But then Donald Trump won the presidency that November, throwing Pelosi’s plans into chaos.

When Pelosi spoke with then-Rep. Bob Brady of Pennsylvania about Clinton’s performance in the state, he was initially upbeat. But by the end of the night, he called and said the former secretary of state’s path to victory in the Keystone State was no longer realistic.

Clinton needed Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes to win the presidency, and with that state gone, along with narrow losses in the longtime Democratic strongholds of Michigan and Wisconsin, the Trump era would soon begin.

Pelosi expressed that she was “horrified” by Trump’s win and felt “physical” pain, saying it was “like a mule kicking you in the back over and over again.”

Read more: Imagine a 20-car motorcade taking you to dinner. That’s the White House bubble Joe Biden now finds himself living in.

Not only did Trump win, but Republicans retained their House and Senate majorities, leaving Democrats out of power in Congress.

Pelosi, who had led the House Democratic conference since 2003 and served as Speaker from 2007 to 2011, found herself faced with the prospect of another two years in the minority and without a legislative partner in the White House.

She was concerned about the new conservative-oriented direction on everything from healthcare and climate change to education and environmental regulations.

While Pelosi was upset that a woman would not occupy the White House, she thought it was “scary” that Trump could have been elected in the first place.

“That was saddening, but the election of Donald Trump was stunningly scary, and it was justified to be scared,” she said. “How could they elect such a person – who talked that way about women, who was so crude and … to me, creepy.”

Pelosi believed that Trump was “unfit” to sit in the Oval Office, and by the end of that Election night, she knew that her time in leadership would not come to an end, aware of the political turbulence ahead.

Read the original article on Business Insider