In early August, the Globe Independent launched a website filled with news stories plagiarized from NBC News, the Washington Post, and other outlets. By September, the impostor news site had amassed more than 30,000 likes on Facebook thanks to dozens of ads it purchased, some of which were critical of China.
During an election season in which Facebook has promised to stop manipulation of its platform, these unknown purveyors of copy-pasted news violated the social network’s policy against fake accounts, and may have evaded its rules for ads about political issues. The plagiarized site’s activity, which went unnoticed until BuzzFeed News alerted Facebook, follows other high-profile failures that question the social media company’s ability to enforce its policies less than a month before the US election.
The Globe Independent page also unwittingly revealed other, apparently unrelated, inauthentic pages, thanks to Facebook’s “Related Pages” feature. Visitors to the Globe Independent’s page were suggested pages including “the Tide Hunter” and “the Star Lane.” Those are part of a network of over 120 pages, which have more than 1 million total likes and are running Facebook ads for what appears to be a cryptocurrency scam. A Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News there was no connection between the Globe Independent page and the cryptocurrency pages but declined to comment further.
“Networks like this just show how profitable it can be to traffic in all kinds of online scams,” said Joan Donovan, the research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. “In the early phase of a disinformation campaign, it can be difficult to tell what the motives are, but this shows just how crucial it is to use Facebook ads to grow audiences and stage legitimacy before really turning into a full-blown influence operation.”
It’s unclear who was behind the Globe Independent site and Facebook page. The Globe Independent did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ emails and Facebook messages. Last Friday, the Globe Independent website was taken offline. Facebook removed the page Sept. 29 after BuzzFeed News asked about it.