One week after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, those searching on Facebook for information about the upcoming March for Our Lives were likely to be shown an active group with more than 50,000 members.
Called “March for Our Lives 2018 Official,” it appeared to be one of the best places to get details about the event and connect with others interested in gun control. But those who joined the group soon found themselves puzzled. The admins often posted pro-gun information and unrelated memes and mocked those who posted about gun control.
“I’m a retired federal law enforcement special agent. There is and never has been any reason for a civilian to have a high-capacity high velocity weapon,” posted one member on Feb. 20.
“Shutup fed and stop trying to spread your NWO BS,” was the top reply, which came from one of the group’s admins. (NWO is a reference to the “new world order” conspiracy theory.)
A few days later the group’s name was changed to “Kim Jong Un Fan Club,” and members continued to wonder what was going on.
The simple answer is they were being trolled. The more complicated one is that while Facebook groups may offer a positive experience for millions of people around the world, they have also become a global honeypot of spam, fake news, conspiracies, health misinformation, harassment, hacking, trolling, scams, and other threats to users, according to reporting by BuzzFeed News, findings from researchers, and the recent indictment of 13 Russians for their alleged efforts to interfere in the US election.
And it could get worse. Facebook recently announced that group content will receive more prominent placement in the News Feed and that groups overall will be a core product focus to help reverse an unprecedented decline in active users in the US and Canada. The unintended consequence is that the more than a billion users active in groups are being placed on a collision course with the hackers, trolls, and other bad actors who will follow Facebook’s lead and make groups even more of a focus for their activities.
“This vision could backfire terribly: an increase in the weight of ‘groups’ means reinforcement of Facebook’s worst features — cognitive bubbles — where users are kept in silos fueled by a torrent of fake news and extremism,” wrote Frederic Filloux, coauthor of the influential weekly media commentary newsletter Monday Note. [Continue reading…]