Wired magazine is reporting that the infamous Internet Research Agency (IRS) — implicated in the Russian scheme to interfere in the U.S. electoral process via social media ads — had one little strategy (little noticed though it was) that targeted American girls ages 14-17.
FaceMusic billed itself as an application, installed as a Chrome browser extension, that allowed users to stream and share their favorite music on Facebook. Ads on Facebook, purchased by the IRA, specifically targeted teenage girls who might download the extension. And when they did, hundreds of their friends were then bombarded with unwanted invitations to also download the phony app.
And, as is the case with Russian trolls, the app wasn’t what it said it was:
Ads purchased in May of 2016 that promoted a suspicious Chrome extension that gained wide access to the Facebook accounts and web browsing behavior of those who installed it.
The ads, dozens in total, prompted users to install the extension, a music app called FaceMusic; when they did, some users reported that it began messaging all of their Facebook friends. The landing page for the ads, musicfb.info, was registered in April of 2016 in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the IRA is based.
The ads containing the extension, purchased by the IRA’s phony anti-immigrant Facebook page Stop All Invaders, were discovered by Jonathan Albright, director of research at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism.
While the ads “selling” FaceMusic were clicked less than 100 times, the story of FaceMusic — from the ads to promote it, to the redirection to political content, to the spamming of other users — is a pretty good indication of just how insidious some of the interference via social media got during the 2016 election.
And is also a primer on what to look out for in the future.