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Government Affairs, November/December 2018

Foreign Facebook Fakes


VVA’s Government Affairs team was first made aware in August 2017 of a suspicious entity that had created a page on Facebook attributed to “Vietnam Vets of America” at the website http://www.vvets.eu It was obvious to us that this was mimicking VVA. This entity included the fraudulent use of VVA’s name and logo to gain trust among its followers, more than 200,000 Facebook users.

This page was engaged in spreading false news and divisive political content targeted at Vietnam veterans. After an unsuccessful months-long battle to have the imposter page shut down, VVA appealed to the media to shed light on the issues we were facing. News reports gained the attention of Congress and Facebook, and in October 2017 the fraudulent Facebook page was shut down.

In March this year, VVA’s GA team discovered that this same entity had control of two additional Facebook pages, “Nam Vets” and “Vietnam-Veterans.org,” and had created a new website http://www.Vietnam-Veterans.org. While the now-shuttered vvets.eu page had been registered anonymously, the new page revealed a registrant in Bulgaria. This is when our investigation into efforts by foreign actors to target American troops and veterans began in earnest.

We prepared a report on the earliest findings of our investigation, focusing on fraudulent content on these websites from March 20-28. We submitted a report on our findings to thirteen congressional committees, the FBI, as well as the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Veterans Affairs. On April 11 Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) cited VVA’s report while questioning Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, at an Energy and Commerce hearing, challenging him to push his company to protect service members and veterans from influence by foreign actors.

Since then, VVA has engaged in a deep dive into the issue of entities targeting veterans to spread disinformation. We are providing the results of our investigation directly to Facebook’s Threat Intelligence Team. This investigation is ongoing and has involved profiling scores of websites, hundreds of social media pages and accounts, tens of thousands of individual online photos (the most popular medium for disinformation campaigns), and multiple social media platforms. VVA recently made contact with Twitter’s Site Authenticity Team and shared the results of our findings with them.

We have discovered networks of accounts and pages that are targeting American troops and veterans that originate in at least twenty-seven foreign countries. They are mostly concentrated in Southeast Asia and the Baltic region of Eastern Europe. The behavior of these pages suggests that they are run by foreign elements who work across borders in different regions. Trolls in Kosovo, for example, are working with trolls in the Philippines to target American veterans with disinformation and politically inflammatory and falsified news.

Since our investigation began, we have made significant progress in removing inauthentic content from social media platforms. Our research and reporting has freed more than 20 million Facebook users from inauthentic content. VVA remains in constant contact with all relevant stakeholders, and our work has recently been profiled in The Wall Street Journal. We have made our notes available to journalists and researchers, and we expect that our findings will help others weed out additional inauthentic content.

Facebook is an important tool for VVA and veterans of all generations. It enables us to build a sense of community. Rather than abandon the social media platform and its positive aspects, we’re fighting to make it better. It’s important for you to learn how to identify whether the pages you’re following are producing content from outside of the United States, so here’s a quick explainer. We’ll start with a walk-through on VVA’s web page so that you can see how to do it on other pages.

If you’re reading Facebook on your computer:

Go to facebook.com/VietnamVeteransOfAmerica Once the page loads, scroll down and look on the left side for “Info and Ads,” and click there. The “Info and Ads” tab will show you the date of the page’s creation, any name changes that have been made to the page, and the number of administrators inside the United States. This doesn’t yet work on every page. We’re fighting to make that happen. Right now it only works on pages with very large followings, and those that have purchased ads with political content.

If you’re using Facebook from the mobile app on your smartphone or tablet:

Open the Facebook app, and search for “Vietnam Veterans of America.” You’ll see a few results, but click on the one that is using the VVA logo. Next, click on the small white circle with the lowercase ‘i,’ which should be just above the “like” button, which looks like a thumbs-up. There you’ll be able to see the page history, which includes any name changes, and the number and country locations of the people who manage our official page.

Once you’ve checked out how to verify our page, try it on other alleged VVA pages. Keep in mind that we should expect some pages to have foreign admins, such as for news outlets by and for people outside the United States. For an example, visit the Facebook page for BBC News and you’ll see admins that are mostly in the U.K., but also in countries around the world where BBC is broadcast.

Before you share something on social media, remember to verify the source. Be sure that you’re not falling prey to hostile actors from outside the United States. Studies have shown that veterans have a great influence on the political beliefs of those around us, which is why we’re prime targets for foreign adversaries long after we take off our uniforms. Let’s make our population a harder target. Educate those around you on how to identify foreign influence, and let’s weed it out together.

2018 Veterans Bills Signed into Law

  • The Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act of 2017 (H.R.1725), requiring VA to evaluate an initiative to reduce the need for in-person disability examinations, signed into law March 9 (PL 115-130).
  • The Veterans Care Financial Protection Act of 2017 (H.R.3122), protecting veterans from fraudulent or predatory scams, signed into law March 9 (PL 115-131).
  • H.R. 3656, providing VA memorial headstones and markers for veterans whose remains are unavailable, signed into law March 16 (PL 115-136).
  • The State Veterans Home Adult Day Health Care Improvement Act of 2017 (S.324), allowing qualifying veterans to receive adult-day medical model health care, signed into law March 27 (PL 115-159).
  • H.R.3562, improving the process for providing certain home adaptations, signed into law June 1 (PL 115-177).
  • The John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka and Samuel R. Johnson VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act (S.2372), streamlining and strengthening VA
    community care programs to ensure veterans receive efficient, timely and quality care, signed into law June 6 (PL 115-182).
  • The Veterans Cemetery Benefit Correction Act (H.R.4910), providing equal burial benefits for veterans interred in National Park Service cemeteries, signed into law June 15 (PL 115-184).
  • The VA Senior Executive Accountability (SEA) Act (H.R.2772), preventing rogue employees from being reassigned within the VA without the VA secretary’s approval, signed into law June 21 (PL 115-188).
  • Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act (H.R. 2147) requiring VA to hire at least 50 Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists under the Veterans Justice Outreach Program. Each of these specialists must serve as part of a justice team in a veterans treatment court or other veteran-focused court. Signed into law September 17 (PL 115-240)

Source: Robert E. McNulty, Sr., Government Affairs Chair for VVA’s New Jersey State Council.






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