Meta Made Millions in Ads From Networks of Fake Accounts

When Meta scores Zuckerberg was called to testify before Congress in 2018, Senator Orin Hatch asked him how Facebook made money. Since then, Zuckerberg’s response has become a kind of meme: “Senator, we run ads.”

Between July 2018 and April 2022, Meta earned at least $ 30.3 million in advertising revenue from the networks it removed from its own platforms to engage in non-genuine coordinated behavior (IPC), according to data collected for WIRED. Margarita Franklin, Meta’s head of security communications, confirmed to WIRED that the company will not return the ad money if a network is turned off. Franklin clarified that some of the money came from ads that did not violate company rules, but were published by the same public relations or marketing organizations that were later banned from participating in CIB operations.

A report from The Wall Street Journal estimates that by the end of 2021, Meta absorbed 17 percent of the money from the global advertising market and earned $ 114 billion with advertising. At least some of the money came from ads bought by networks that violate Meta policies and that the company itself has flagged and removed.

Photographs: Meta

“The global advertising industry is estimated to be between $ 400 billion and $ 700 billion,” said Claire Atkin, co-founder of the independent agency Check My Ads Institute. “This is a big brush, but no one knows how big the industry is. No one knows what’s going on inside.”

But Atkin says part of what makes information, including ads, feel legitimate on social media is the context in which they appear. “Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, this whole network within our Internet experience, is where we connect with our closest friends and family. This is a place on the Internet where we share our most intimate emotions about what is happening. in our lives, ”Atkin says. “This is our trusted location for the connection.”

For almost four years, Meta has published periodic reports identifying CIB networks of fake accounts and pages that aim to mislead users and, in many cases, drive propaganda or misinformation in a way designed to look organic and change public opinion. These networks can be managed by governments, independent groups, or public relations and marketing companies.


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Last year, the company also began addressing what it called “coordinated social harm,” where networks used real accounts as part of their information operations. Nathaniel Gleicher, Meta’s head of security policy, announced the changes in a blog post, noting that “threat actors deliberately blur the lines between genuine and non-genuine activities, making enforcement more difficult to our whole industry “.

This change, however, demonstrates how specific the company’s criteria are for CIB, meaning that Meta may not have documented some networks that used other tactics. Sometimes, information transactions can use real accounts or run on behalf of a political action committee or LLC, making it more difficult to classify their behavior as “unauthentic”.

“One tactic that has been used most frequently, at least since 2016, has not been robots, but real people who go out and publish things,” says Sarah Kay Wiley, a researcher at the University of Tow Center for Digital Journalism. Columbia. “Facebook’s CIB reports are understandable, but it’s very difficult to detect.”


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Russia had the most ads on the networks that Meta identified as CIB and later removed. The United States, Ukraine, and Mexico were the most frequent targets, although almost all campaigns targeting Mexico were linked to national actors. (Meta public profit documents do not break down how much the company earns by country, only by region).

More than $ 22 million of the $ 30.3 million was spent on just seven channels, the largest of which was a $ 9.5 million global campaign connected to the anti-China right-wing media group that was there. behind Epoch Times.

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