May 10, 2017

Gannett takes concerns about fake Facebook users to the FBI


USA Today and Gannett headquarters in Tysons Corner, Virginia.

Media giant Gannett has become so concerned about the number of fake Facebook users descending on its pages that the company has turned to the FBI for help.

As USA Today’s Elizabeth Weise and Brad Heath reported on Friday, Gannett—the notorious owner of USA Today and hundreds of local media organizations across the coountry—has “ask[ed] the FBI to investigate an international spamming operation” after Facebook removed millions of fake users who’d liked the company’s pages. USA Today, which is Gannett’s largest holding, itself “saw the sharpest drop in likes to its page—6 million users were wiped out in April—reducing the outlet’s total number of likes from 15.2 million to 9.5 million.”

While the purge of Gannett followers is part of Facebook’s larger initiative to rein in fake users targeting media companies, The Hill’s Max Greenwood noted that, for reasons that aren’t clear, USA Today had been “the target of a particularly large numbers of phony users.” Facebook had warned publishers last month that most of those affected by the purge “with more than 10,000 likes would lose a maximum of 3 percent of their likes,” but USA Today seems to have had a much larger percentage of their followers deleted. “We don’t know why the scope of impact on USA Today’s Facebook Page appears greater than any other publisher,” Shagnam Shaik, technical program manager at Facebook told Sara Guaglione of PublishersDaily.

While the numbers of course seem to indicate the Gannett and other media companies affected by the purges might be particularly vulnerable to accounts peddling fake news, Facebook said the majority of the accounts they’d targeted, most of them originating from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, “had not been mobilized yet to actually make connects and send spam to those people.” After all, USA Today might just be the most conspicuous target out there.



Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.