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Facebook says U.S. is among top 5 sources of influence operations

The facebook logo displayed on a smartphone screen, in front of a backdrop of the Facebook logo.

The U.S. is one of the top originators of influence operations, according to a Facebook report.

(Photo Illustration by Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In a report published Wednesday, Facebook named the U.S. as one of the top countries where social media influence operations originated over the last three years. The U.S. ranked fourth on Facebook's list, behind Russia, Iran and Myanmar and just ahead of Ukraine.

Facebook defines influence operations as "coordinated efforts to manipulate or corrupt public debate for a strategic goal." The U.S., the report said, is also the top target for these campaigns, which is to say, it's the country where Facebook has detected and removed the most networks engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior.

This is the second white paper Facebook has produced related to influence operations. The first report was released in 2017, months before the company acknowledged that Russia's Internet Research Agency had used a network of fake accounts, events and pages to buy ads and sow division among Americans before the 2016 presidential election.

Since then, Facebook said influence operations have gotten both smaller in scale and more sophisticated. Influence operators now offer their services to customers who want deniability in the event that they're caught. They also do a better job hiding their identities and roping in real people to amplify their messages. They're smaller in scale than they used to be, Facebook said, but they also capitalize on the growing awareness of influence operations "to create the false perception of widespread manipulation of electoral systems, even if there is no evidence."

While influence operations Facebook detected from countries such as Russia, Iran, Myanmar and Ukraine have largely been sponsored by governments, political parties and military groups, Facebook said nine influence operations that originated in the U.S. during that time were carried out by conspiracy theorists and fringe political actors, public relations agencies and media websites.

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