The MIT Technology Review obtained a Facebook internal data-research report in 2019. According to the report from 2019 running up to 2020, the top pages that create content for Christian and African American audiences were run by troll farms. The separate pages creating different ranges were managed by the same troll farms based in Kosovo and Macedonia.
MIT Technology Review obtained a copy of the 2019 report from a former Facebook employee who was not involved in its writing. The report stated that 19 out of the top 20 pages churning out massive amounts of Christian content were managed by the troll farms. Altogether, the pages’ content could reach close to 140 million users per month.
Around 75% of the combined monthly engagement of the pages are from users who did not like or follow the page. Jeff Allen, the author of the 2019 report, said, “instead of users choosing to receive content from these actors, it is our platform that is choosing to give an enormous reach.” “This is not normal. This is not healthy,” he added.
Allen, a former data scientist for Facebook, wrote the report in 2019 as part of an investigation trying to understand troll farms. The employee who leaked the report claimed that Allen left Facebook because of the lack of response from the leadership regarding his report’s findings. Allen did not verify the former employee’s claims but said that Facebook has “empowered inauthentic actors to accumulate huge followings.”
With the amount of misinformation from religious pages on Facebook, pastors are getting overwhelmed by the competition. Compared to a once-a-week sermon or twice-a-week service, Facebook users are exposed to misinformation from these pages every day.
As of 2019, 10 out of the top 15 top African-American pages are controlled by troll farms. 19 out of the top 20 Christian American pages and 4 out of the top 11 Native American pages are owned by the troll farms. The only top Christian page not controlled by trolls is an anti-LGBTQ page called Guideposts.
Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne explained that they have already started investigating the results of the report. “We have stood up teams, developed new policies, and collaborated with industry peers to address these networks,” Osborne added, referring to the network of troll farms.
Allen’s report also discovered that the contents from the troll farms’ pages were targeted for the same demographic as those targeted by the Internet Research Agency (IRA). In 2018, one member of the Kremlin-backed IRA was indicted for election interference during the 2016 US elections.