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Vietnam veterans being targeted by fake Facebook pages

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate committee meeting on April 10, 2018. (Screen Shot/YouTube)
April 25, 2018

Several fake Facebook pages are targeting Vietnam War veterans, the Atlantic recently reported.

There are at least two Facebook pages from Bulgaria that are targeting and scamming veterans of the Vietnam War by spreading divisive and fake news to people, according to a letter obtained by the Atlantic that was sent to lawmakers by a veteran’s nonprofit organization.

Last August, the nonprofit Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) discovered that there was another page on Facebook with the same name, logo and trademark passing themselves off as the “real” nonprofit.

The imposter Facebook page’s posts linked to “vvets.eu”— a website registered through Netfinity JSC of Bulgaria, the Atlantic reported. The Facebook page had roughly 200,000 followers by October 2017.

The nonprofit reached out to Facebook to make them aware of the page. Facebook said that it would review the page but had not shut it down by late September, despite VVA’s assistant director for policy, Kristofer Goldsmith, telling a Facebook representative that the page was “building an audience by sharing incendiary fake news” and propaganda, according to the Atlantic.

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Facebook eventually disabled the page and eight others for being “inauthentic,” BuzzFeed News reported.

“We rely on a combination of automated detection systems, as well as reports from the community, to help identify suspicious activity on the platform and ensure compliance with our policies,” a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

The pages were registered to a Bulgarian individual named Nikola Mitov. The pages posted stories of memorials getting vandalized, athletes kneeling for the national anthem, and other old and plagiarized news.

“On behalf of the 80,000-plus members of Vietnam Veterans of America, we are requesting the assistance of your committee in investigating the use of social media by foreign actors to target and influence American veterans,” Vietnam Veterans of America wrote in a letter to the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Atlantic reported. “As social media becomes ever more important to the daily lives of all generations of veterans, we hope to see the government take a proactive approach to ensuring a safe cyber environment.”

Goldsmith said this spreading of fake information is a cause for concern because many veterans are active in their community.

“That is why these people target veterans,” Goldsmith told BuzzFeed News. “Any disinformation that gets through to the readers is going to disseminate into the population.”

In Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerbergs’ congressional testimony earlier this month, he said that foreign influence and fake Facebook accounts are a problem for the company and hopes that AI tools will be able to combat the problem in the future.

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Goldsmith hopes in the short-term that while those tools will take some time, Facebook has other solutions for how to protect the veteran community that uses Facebook to connect to their organization and beyond.

“I would love to see it clearly communicated that they are not just going to shut down fake accounts but that they will proactively work to protect the veteran population as a whole,” Goldsmith said.