Russian trolls meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election also collected Americans’ personal data using fraudulent means, according to information from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The trolls used fake directories of black-owned businesses, fake free self-defense classes, and fake petitions to collect the personal information. They are believed to have used the stolen American identities to open PayPal and bank accounts, create fake driver’s licenses, buy political advertisements, and initiate other nefarious schemes.
One Facebook account linked to the Russian trolls, called Black4Black, offered free social media promotion to African-American entrepreneurs and offered to list them in a directory of black-owned businesses. More than a dozen entrepreneurs have reported that they turned over data to participate in the directory. Other targeted groups included Texas secessionists, the LGBTQ community, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The trolls used U.S. social networking feeds to sow political and cultural division prior to and during the election. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-ranging probe has returned more than a dozen indictments of Russians as well as several American associates of now-President Donald Trump. Russia has denied it interfered in U.S. elections.
Facebook, Twitter and Google have acknowledged their platforms were used by Russians around the time of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Reddit announced that it has deleted hundreds of Russian-linked accounts after a review of its users. Tumblr is also conducting a review of the accounts on its site.
The tech giants have since rolled out a number of changes to battle the spread of misleading information on their sites. Facebook now has a tool for users to check whether they have liked or followed a Russian-linked Facebook or Instagram page. However, the tool doesn’t notify users who exchanged messages with or turned over information to the accounts. Facebook will also now verify that buyers of political advertisements are in the U.S. and is hiring 10,000 new safety and security employees.
The 2018 midterms will be another big test for social networks. People are raising concerns about an inability to prevent a repeat of the problems that plagued the 2016 election. The U.S.’s top cyber official, Adm. Michael Rogers, recently admitted that the Trump administration had not directed him specifically to counter Russian meddling ahead of the 2018 midterms.