How do you handle suspected Russian trolls in closed Facebook groups?
November 24, 2019 5:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm an admin of a community Facebook group in my city. It's a closed group, and people need to answer screening questions before they're accepted.

The group shares information and resources on rights for this population. (I want to avoid naming the topic because I'm already experiencing low level stalking.) We regularly experience the 'oppressors' of this group trying to infiltrate via fake accounts created a few days ago.

Now, I'm noticing a new kind of infiltrator. I've also noticed this in other community neighbourhood groups and I believe they are Russian trolls.

They are very convincing - they have local 'friends', belong to other local community groups, like local businesses and post in neighbourhood groups. However, I have researched this topic a little bit and I'm suspicious that they are Russian trolls because:

- They make controversial, provocative posts in neighbourhood groups that seem to try to sow discord. Pro-cop, anti-homeless kind of stuff. Slightly offensive memes.
- Posting news articles that are provocative but a couple years old.
- Liking a lot of American pages or having American references (we're not in the United States)
- They like a zillion pages, but I've noticed a couple Russian pages, which seem out of place.
- Something about the photos just They're always out of focus and never flattering.
- Using the laugh emoji and making slightly abrasive comments on serious articles.

It's hard to talk about this without sounding crazy. I do know Russian trolls are a thing, I just didn't think they would be at the neighbourhood level.

If you're an admin of a closed Facebook group, have you experienced this? If so, how did you handle it? We're working on a website and don't want to rely on Facebook. Unfortunately, most people in the demographic for this group have Facebook and it's been a great way to communicate so far.
posted by Pademelon to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Approve all posts (not comments; just new posts) and boot anyone who seems suspicious. Nobody has a right to group access but you have an obligation to the group you admin.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:46 PM on November 24, 2019 [12 favorites]

You should also pin a post to the top of the page that spells out the norms for your group explicitly and perhaps not allow any off-topic posts. This is a group that's meant to be sharing rights and resources so anything that not related to rights and resources doesn't get posted.

You could also make your screening questions require a bit more detail and narrative, which might help to screen out trolls who just aren't going to bother with having to answer something requiring more than a sentence.

Also consistently report accounts that you think are bogus.
posted by brookeb at 6:31 PM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Explicit guidelines up top. Immediate posting ban (but not block) of anyone who you think is fishy but letting people know up front that this is a concern. Give people a chance to ask the admins what is up. If you have more than one admin, use notes to keep track of what you've been blocking and encourage other people who are in the group to flag stuff they think is sketchy. I moderate a group with over 30,000 people. We mostly just have garden variety spammers. We're really fussy about people answering our questions. Very few people use the flagging feature on Facebook so encourage longtime trusted members to help out if this is something you could use help with.
posted by jessamyn at 7:18 PM on November 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'll be honest, this just sounds like people on Facebook to me, as a heavy Groups user. That said, in terms of how you can/should act I think it doesn't really matter whether they're "Russian trolls" or not—either they fit into the group or they don't, whereupon you kick them out just like you would if they were "real" local people.
posted by Polycarp at 7:20 PM on November 24, 2019 [8 favorites]

I agree it’s good to encourage flagging but please also explain specifically how to do so. I normally consider myself fairly savvy but with the ever-moving target of FB UI, I can only manage to flag about half the posts I <intend to on mobile.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:26 PM on November 24, 2019

A bunch of troll bots have showed up recently in a facebook page relating to a scandal in a niche hobby I'm involved in. The scandal-ee (is that a word? it should be) is related to someone at a PR firm to deal and it looks like they hired fake users to seed talking points online. It's apparently cheap and easy to hire bots and also they're not bots, they're underemployed college graduates for the most part and the profiles look real because they use the same ones over and over for all kinds of stuff and they grow like a regular profile. Also they steal unused profiles and photos so sometimes they are legit profiles that got hacked.

Their slightly off English language skills and constant use of repeated slogan like phrases give it away. Also weird capitalization. The idea of hiring them is that they drop these made up catchphrases, slogans and factoids in discussion groups and other users will pick up the talking points and repeat them. It's a dead giveaway. They stuck around briefly and seem to be gone now.

For the questions ask something hyper local and not google-able. They you'll know.
posted by fshgrl at 9:00 PM on November 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

Ask your group to report posts like the offensive ones and ban them vigiliantly. You can ban people for the least teeny minor infractions if it suits you, such as posts too similar to others already posted, or being off topic. Controversial posts or replies or ones that make people uncomfortable can go without pause for consideration.

"made me uncomfortable, we don't seem to be the right group for you, I wish you well" is all you need say and of course if they are trolls, you then completely disengage. You may also prepare to report them to fb should they not silently disappear. You really want them to get impolite so you can ask fb to boot them for bad language or whatever.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:27 AM on November 25, 2019

this just sounds like people on Facebook to me, as a heavy Groups user.

There's really not such a bright line on this - trollbot vs. human - because part of the way they work is to use humans to feed pushed content. Some of the humans know they're engaged in this farming, and others are unwitting tools that are invited to engage in it. So either way, it's about the content. If someone's not treating the content respectfully as you wish, it hardly matters whether it's an actual bot, an intentional human disinformation pusher, or a useful idiot. Ban early and often.
posted by Miko at 4:34 AM on November 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

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