back to article Facebook's big solution to combating election ad fraud: Snail mail

In the face of increasing public pressure to address election fraud, Facebook has come up with a novel way to check who's buying advertising on its site – snail mail. As the Zuckerborg's shine rapidly fades, and governments and users wake up to the effects it has had on society, the firm is engaged in a battle to prove it can …

  1. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. }{amis}{ Silver badge
    Holmes

    Paid..

    Make the advertiser turn up at FB offices and pay in person, at least that way you have a physical person (possibly patsy) to nab if thing go bad.

    It would make the approach obnoxious enough that it will no longer be low hanging fruit any more.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Use street view. Phone them up ask if they are at the address and ask them to tell you what's on the street they are on. If they have a Russian accent then flag it as fake.

    Even better, rather than you send them a postcard get them to send you one. You can't fake a postmark.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Even better, rather than you send them a postcard get them to send you one. You can't fake a postmark.

      Probably not unless you are a government operative then you probably can.

      But it's far easier for them to send the postcard in an envelope to a third party in the country they wish to influence who can then post it from there so it has a legitimate postmark.

      Realistically it's almost impossible to verify somebodies location if they really want to hide it and have deep pockets.

      1. tom dial Silver badge

        It doesn't even really require deep pockets to hide your location, especially if, as Special Prosecutor Mueller has charged in part, you have connections with the foreign government and potential use of "embassy staff" for in-country pickup and delivery.

        1. Samizdata

          First thing that popped into my mind was all of those tricks carders used to use to get fraudulently purchased shipments.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Soon in a spam message to you...

        "Make $$$$ a week from you home, no computer required, you only need a postal address and being able to answer the phone and receive/send a postcard"....

        Does Facebook knows how many money mules are already active in the US?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If they have a Russian accent then flag it as fake. Cute. Really Cute.

      Plenty of Russians have no accent when speaking English. Dunno what is 80th secondary school called now (the one at the Cosmonaut's arse in Moscow), but it used to produce people who talk English fluently and could do synchronous translation to UN translator "job spec" 20+ years ago. I suspect it still does so today.

      Just to be clear - there are plenty of "average Russians" which talk with an accent, but they come from your average secondary school in the suburbs - not from one of the places like the afore mentioned number 80.

      They have similar schools for French, Spanish and German too.

      In one of these outfits, foreign language education starts at year 2 with mere 7 hours of language a week. That becomes 8 in eyar 3. From year 4 all subjects except Russian literature are taught in the foreign language. This includes STEM, history, world literature, the works. A Russian which has come out of one of these places goes "native" in 2-3 months and there is no way for you to discern that you are talking to a foreigner.

      The only place where ALL Russians speak with an accent are low budget Hollywood slasher soft porn flicks like "Red Sparrow".

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Just to be clear - there are plenty of "average Russians" which talk with an accent"

        I was at a conference once where a Chinese engineer I knew introduced me to one of his colleagues. "I'm afraid he speaks English with a slight American accent," he said, "he learned it at spy school in Moscow in the 1950s."

        Anyone who believes the tosh that the Chinese are inscrutable and have no sense of humour would have been disabused as his colleague turned bright red and muttered something about "all that was before the Cultural Revolution."

    3. EarthDog

      They can use street view as well.

      Just use the same tool as you. Tech cuts both ways you know.

      1. 's water music Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: They can use street view as well.

        Just use the same tool as you. Tech cuts both ways you know.

        I use Bing for my secret squirrel stuff. Nobody expects that.

        Even he doesn't watch bing----------------->

  4. mark l 2 Silver badge

    'It isn't clear exactly how the system will work, but presumably it will be more complex than sending potential purchasers a postcard to an address they supply'

    You reckon? I think this is exactly what it will be. I think your giving them way to much credit. It will be a simple send out a letter with a confirmation code to a US registered address, the recipient has to enter the code on the website to become verified.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    El Reg Narrative?

    Central to this are criticisms over the ease with which Russian actors were able to use and manipulate the platform – and others – to allegedly influence the 2016 US presidential election.

    Yeah, I inserted the word in bold because it should be there, unless you'd like to point us at the actual evidence of this act?

    I can see that El Reg is referring to what 'others' are saying, but the underlying tone still comes across as 'the Russians totally did it'.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: El Reg Narrative?

      Don't forget that someone has to support the 'reds under the bed' narrative.

  6. Warm Braw Silver badge

    It's a step in the right direction

    The direction being that of replacing Facebook with postcards in its entirety.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: It's a step in the right direction

      I like that idea. So instead of waiting by the computer for something to appear on FB, the users will be waiting by the mailbox and maybe actually talking to their neighbors.

  7. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Delivering a narrative is not done via advertising

    The primary means and methods of abusing Facebook to influence OTHER country elections are based around viral propagation, not paid newsfeed or adverts.

    We are doing it in the Russian election full blast at the moment with our own troll factories trying to make various articles against Putin go viral. They did it to us in the US election and the BrExit referendum. They will be doing it to us in the rather inevitable next UK, CZ (and several others) elections as well as the USA mid-term. We will be doing it in the same countries to fight back. We will be doing it to... They will be doing to... We will be doing it to...

    And so on. All these verification checks do f*** all to prevent Facebook being used as a major influencer because any method which will do that for real will cripple our ability to screw them as much as their ability to screw us.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Delivering a narrative is not done via advertising

      This presumes implicitly that these Facebook and other social media activities affect whether and how people vote to a significant degree. That is something difficult to prove and as far as I have seen reported definitely not yet established as a fact. That does not mean it should be ignored. However, what the Russians are claimed to have done is not meaningfully different from what a great many Americans have done to a similar degree. The $100K or so they apparently spent on Facebook and other ads was around 1/100 of 1% of the total 2016 presidential campaign outlay, so one may reasonably suggest its importance was pretty limited.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Delivering a narrative is not done via advertising

        This presumes implicitly that these Facebook and other social media activities affect whether and how people vote to a significant degree.

        They do not. But they do affect turn-out quite significantly. If you manage to (usually) increase or (less often) decrease the turnout in a specific demographic you can achieve the same (or better) results.

        1. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: Delivering a narrative is not done via advertising

          It is correct that increased turnout by a party's adherents will improve its results. A citation or so is in order to the point that Facebook, Twitter, and perhaps other social media actually had that effect differentially between the two largest parties. Even if that turns out to be true, more are needed to establish that postings by Russians were a significant part of that.

      2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Delivering a narrative is not done via advertising

        "

        The $100K or so they apparently spent on Facebook and other ads was around 1/100 of 1% of the total 2016 presidential campaign outlay, so one may reasonably suggest its importance was pretty limited.

        "

        Erm, what has the cost got to do with anything? The cost of an O-ring seal was far less than 1/100 of 1% of the cost of the "Challenger" mission. Do you therefore reasonably suggest that its importance was pretty limited?

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: Delivering a narrative is not done via advertising

          The cost of an O-ring seal

          That was what engineering calls single point of failure. An event which changes everything.

          So far nobody has managed to prove that any of the advertisements, fake news, disinformation campaigns, etc by either side was a such a change. There is absolutely nothing we can point at and say: "Woaaa... this item changed the world forever".

          So estimating the effect on the basis of its proportion to the overall spending is a valid approximation. Until proven otherwise.

      3. DougS Silver badge

        Little of what they did was actually paid for advertising

        I don't think anything influences how people vote "to a significant degree". Taking the presidential election as an example: a third of voters are locked in no matter what - they'd vote for Hitler promising gas chambers for kittens and puppies if he had the D or R by his name. Of the third remaining, a third each will vote for the D or R pretty much unless they are Hitler.

        It is that remaining third of a third who decide the election, they are the ones you need to sway - the only ones you CAN sway. They are the reason you see all the negative ads, because it is a lot easier to make them vote AGAINST someone (or decide not to show up) than to make them vote FOR someone.

        I don't think that Facebook should be worrying about ads, because based on the evidence we have now almost none of what the Russians did was paid for advertising. They had a lot of troll accounts that shared made up stuff dressed up to look like "news" on Facebook and Twitter. Then other trolls would like, share and comment on Facebook, favoring and retweeting on Twitter.

        Those troll accounts had long since formed relationships with some US based people (i.e. finding people who had similar viewpoints to the ones they wanted to push and liking/sharing/commenting on their stuff and eventually friending them, and the equivalent on Twitter) so the stuff they were sharing amongst themselves was picked up and re-shared in the US on and on again through real US based friend networks. Those US based people who were unwittingly spreading what the Russian trolls had started weren't interested in fact checking whether Hillary really was going to be dead from cancer within a year of the election, if the story had a slant they liked they helped spread it. Even if some were skeptical that Hillary really was dying and didn't spread the story enough did that it and stories like it took on a life of their own.

        Sure, the Russians could have bought advertising on Facebook but instead hired a hundred people who write English well and had them work all day every day doing this. They were able to amplify stories 1000x more per dollar than if they were run as paid for ads. If you wanted to advertise a business honestly you'd probably get more bang for your buck hiring a dozen college students to work a few hours a day posting/sharing/etc. making your product look good and the other product look bad. Imagine if some newcomer to the Android market did this, hyping up their product and slagging on Samsung as overpriced etc. I've heard claims that Samsung has paid people on social media to hype them and that's why they got so big in the US...dunno whether that's true or not but if it is I guess they were ahead of their time.

        What I'm really worried about is that campaigns are going to hire social media teams who will basically be like US based troll farms. Campaign laws are backwards looking and concerned with traditional ads like you see on TV or via fliers received in the mail. They don't cover paying people to share false stories about your opponent that someone else wrote, and even if they were fixed so they did they'd simply use the third party soft-money groups to do it for them. Since Trump's administration sure isn't going to lift a finger to stop the Russian trolls they'll be around with us in 2018 and 2020, but they may be drowned out by the US run troll operations. I guess that's a good thing????

        1. onefang
          Trollface

          Re: Little of what they did was actually paid for advertising

          "hired a hundred people who write English well"

          fb peple what rite english gud r obvious trolls

        2. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: Little of what they did was actually paid for advertising

          " ... campaigns are going to hire social media teams who will basically be like US based troll farms." That horse seems to have left the barn quite a while back. I thought it was well known that the Democratic Party and campaigns made significant use of social media by no later than 2008 and that the Republican Party and campaigns did so starting no later than 2012. A search engine will locate a fair amount of academic work on the subject easily enough, much of it relating to countries other than the US.

          To the extent they do not exist already, domestic political troll farms can be assumed to exist and be active in future election campaigns. Whether that's a good thing or not is mostly immaterial; such activity generally is under the fullest first amendment protection. Libel and slander laws may apply, but truth regulation generally is not permissible; in that environment, truth and truthiness are pretty much equivalent. Facebook and other private sector organizations can do pretty much what they like to control this, but it is implausible that they will have much taste for restrictions that will, or that they think will, cost them users or customers. The scurrilous pamphlets of the early 19th century have given way to the social media postings of the 21st, and we will learn to live with it.

    2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Delivering a narrative is not done via advertising

      In my experience of running a Facebook page to support my side business, I would say that advertising does matter.

      Over time I've found that Facebook is showing fewer of my posts to fewer of my followers by default, but does offer me the option of boosting the post to reach a wider audience (in return for cold hard cash).

      When boosting a post, you can tailor the audience that sees the boosted/advertised post. Not a big deal for someone like me, but probably quite useful for someone trying to reach a particular political demographic.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Delivering a narrative is not done via advertising

        Facebook is scamming businesses, they continually reduce the reach of unboosted posts, and make you pay more for the same amount of boosting.

        Besides, if you want to reach the under 30 crowd, Facebook is a shitty way to do that. Not sure what is, since there isn't much in the way of advertising on Snapchat and Instagram to my knowledge, but once grandparents started joining Facebook it was doomed as far as getting millennials interested.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'The identity theft detailed in the indictment'

    Proves there's no lengths that the Russians won't go to game the system. They even spurred partisan zombies to organize rallies for them, all online. How difficult would it be to get people to set up an entire business and run it for them locally with that kind of clout and 'virtual check-book'...??? They may even have a few sleeper agents hanging around, who knows.

    The problem here is Zuk and his silicon valley pals think they can throw algos at everything, because AUTOMATION.... Plus they're too polite to admit what they're really thinking. Which is: humans bad - algos good. Humans tend to come with human bullshit / 'chips on shoulders'. Whereas firing an algo is fast and easy. Plus algos can't turn into whistleblowers or squeal on Execs either, and no one there wants to face Uber like scrutiny...

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-17/facebook-twitter-ill-equipped-to-stop-repeat-of-2016-meddling

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 'The identity theft detailed in the indictment'

      Proves there's no lengths that the Russians won't go to game the system.

      They have good teachers. We have been doing it to them for the last 25 years.

      All I can say is that they definitely paid attention in class and have exceeded their teacher's expectations.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 'The identity theft detailed in the indictment'

        "They have good teachers. We have been doing it to them for the last 25 years."

        Since 1918, actually.

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: 'The identity theft detailed in the indictment'

      What do you think the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe have been doing since the war?

      I'm sure they wouldn't stoop to broadcasting anything that might attempt to influence the elections or people of a sovereign country.

      1. EarthDog

        Re: 'The identity theft detailed in the indictment'

        But they were transparent about who they were and what their agenda was.

  9. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Question?

    How will they check the US address is not being used by a front organization? The Russians (or anyone else) are quite capable of setting up a US based front organization. It does not take that many people or money to do, especially since it is being used as mail drop. About all a postcard does is to allow Failbook to wash their hands of the problem.

    1. Comments are attributed to your handle

      Re: Question?

      I think the idea is that this would at least provide a paper trail.

      1. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: Question?

        A clear case of form superseding substance?

  10. IGnatius T Foobar

    Election integrity is easy *if* they're willing.

    Facebook cannot, should not, and must not be trusted to have a hand in ensuring election integrity, because Facebook has its own biases. This is documented.

    The way to ensure election integrity is by enacting strong election integrity laws. Government ID required to vote, and a thumb dye to prevent multiple votes by the same person, would immediately eliminate the vast majority of fraudulent votes.

    (These measures are common sense, which is why they are opposed by the people who cheat the most.)

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Election integrity is easy *if* they're willing.

      vast majority of fraudulent votes.

      That is not how you rig an election in the developed world. The cost of rigging it this way is not astronomical, it outright mindboggling. Even doing this in the developing world costs an arm, a leg and a prosthetic. What you can get this way is at most a few fractions of a percent.

      It is much easier and cheaper to shift the vote in the direction you want by manipulating the public opinion and to be more exact manipulating the turnout. This is what outfits like Cambridge Analytica and their counterparts on Russian payroll do for a living. They do it well and they do it in a way where there is absolutely no visible violation of the election laws in the country in question.

      1. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge
        Holmes

        Re: Election integrity is easy *if* they're willing.

        You can pull off voter fraud pretty simply if you use the identities of dead people who haven't been removed from the voter rolls. Even if we ignore the possibility of people casting multiple votes, you can still get people not permitted to vote(eg, felons, illegal aliens) to do the job. Gathering them up, driving them to the polls and bribing them to vote as ordered doesn't add up to all that much.

        And, even if we flat-out deny any possibility of it influencing the presidency, things like off-year elections are still vulnerable: if a senate seat's up for grabs in a sufficiently purple state with sufficiently low turnout, you can also bus in people from out of state to pad your numbers while legitimate ones will tend to stay home.

        Requiring a photo ID largely fixes this(faking one is a lot more involved, though admittedly still possible, hence the "largely").

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Election integrity is easy *if* they're willing.

      How are ID checks and thumbprints going to prevent fraud in absentee votes? It isn't, but just like the democrats are resistant to change that makes it harder to vote in person on the day of the election (where they have an advantage over republicans) the republicans are resistant to change that make it harder to vote by absentee ballot since that's where they have an advantage over democrats.

      If you were going to cast one fraudulent ballot, which is easier: 1) using someone else's name/address and going to a different poll location, or 2) filling out an absentee ballot request that includes a change of address, and having it delivered to the house down the street that's for sale?

      Now which is easier if you wanted to cast a dozen fraudulent votes? You can't do them all in person, the lines are too long, but you could do hundreds of absentee ballots this way in a big city if you were motivated! Get a list of all the houses for sale that list immediate possession (i.e. they aren't occupied) and look up your local assessor's site to find the name of the person who owns it and request an absentee ballot in their name to that address. Some won't be registered but most people who own homes are. You can swing by all the houses at night to pick up the absentee ballot from the mailbox - no one will be checking the box because they've forwarded their mail but absentee ballots in most states are prominently marked DO NOT FORWARD so they will go that address!

      Or if you own a second home, you can choose which state you vote in based on where your vote matters (i.e. if you are a New Yorker with a home in Florida, like probably at least a couple million rich New Yorkers, regardless of your politics you will want to claim you are a Florida resident for both tax purposes (no state income tax) and voting purposes (Florida is a swing state, New York is not)

      So why are republicans so concerned with fixing in person voting while they don't want to do ANYTHING to address shortcomings in absentee voting? Perhaps you already answered that question with your comment about "opposed by people who cheat the most".

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Election integrity is easy *if* they're willing.

        How are ID checks and thumbprints going to prevent fraud in absentee votes?

        The Baltic/Nordic/Eastern European way - the votes are submitted online and a signing certificate used to verify you are who you are. You have the option of the certificate being stored by a third party or being stored on your crypto-token/card or the crypto in the ID itself being used. They have been experimenting with this for a while now. I believe only Baltics went as far as running limited trials for voting though. The rest uses it for other stuff - taxes, banking, signing contracts, etc.

        Using it is not as mad as it looks. 95% of adults in UK have access to a card reader. Our banks have made us have one so we can use the Internet banking.

        The downside is that you have to trust the election commission to record your vote in the tally, but not record how you voted so you can be identified personally at a later date.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: Election integrity is easy *if* they're willing.

          That's an option for the future perhaps, but not really feasible to roll out to a country the size of the US - especially when the federal government doesn't run elections the states do. The feds only set standards, and if they don't give the states money to make it happen it never will - and this would be very expensive. I'm sure the republicans would use that as an excuse not to do it. Because they hate deficits, unless they are created by big tax cuts or huge increases in military spending, in which case they are nothing to worry about.

      2. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: Election integrity is easy *if* they're willing.

        Considerations like those mentioned may be behind severe restrictions on both early and absentee voting in some states. Like the Democratic bastion of New York.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Alien

    No return to sender

    In Australia, most people near me throw mail wrongly addressed or for those people who have moved, into the garbage bin, so much for RTS (return to sender). Corporations don''t get told and keep sendiing them letters, at $1.00 per letter now it's more money for Auspost.

    I suggest people do a mail forward at their local post office before the move accommodation.

    But if you forget then too bad, if you move after setting up your Facebook advertising account or just use a fake address because you don't want them to know where you live, as recommended by security people, that say use fake name address and Date of birth when it doesn't count.

    Well Facebook, you don't count !

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Want to earn $$$$ at home from scanning postcards and emailing them to us? If so contact me at igor@kremvax.kgb.ru today!!

    1. Paul 129
      FAIL

      Postal rediection services?

      Are these not available in the US somehow? I would have though them common.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Exchanging info via postcards ... I think George Smiley would have called that "Moscow Rules"

  14. stephanh

    security theatre

    Obviously Facebook has deemed it politically expedient to be seen doing something. Or to be seen to be considering doing something. Whatever, as long as it doesn't upset the flow of $$$.

    I assume they will eventually settle on putting a check box "hereby I declare that I am a U.S. citizen" on the webform. That will thwart those eeevil Ruskies!

  15. lglethal Silver badge
    Go

    Simpler solution

    Here's my simpler solution (Facebook feel free to send me a cheque if you decide to implement this)

    1) Any ad related to politics must be paid for by direct money transfer from a bank located in the country the politics is for (i.e. if you want to make an ad to do with american politics, your bank must be located in America.

    2) Bank details for political ads are handed over to said country's federal law enforcement (e.g. FBI).

    3) Law enforcement ask the bank if the owner of the Account is a citizen of said country, and if there are any suspicious or international deposits entering said account.

    4) If yes, law enforcement to follow up and ads blocked. If no. hey presto ads go up.

    Is that really so difficult? Law enforcement get to do their jobs (i.e. enforcing the law), Facebook et al are seen to do their part. And we dont end up with extra legal situations where companies are policing and enforcing the law.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Simpler solution

      The number of political advertisements in campaigns for federal office makes this pretty much a nonstarter, especially if it is to be done by federal law enforcement agency.

      In any case, it does not address political trolling, which arguably is a more significant issue despite a paucity of evidence that foreign trolling has, or had, much effect.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019