Earlier this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised lawmakers that his platform would crack down on fake accounts and foreign influence. But at least two Facebook pages linked to websites operating out of Bulgaria are still targeting U.S. veterans of the Vietnam War, according to a letter obtained by The Atlantic that was sent to lawmakers by a nonprofit veteran’s organization.
The U.S. military community is not a new or unusual target for foreign influence operations. A study published in October by the University of Oxford found that three websites linked to Russia—Veteranstoday.com, Veteransnewsnow.com and Southfront.org—engaged in “significant and persistent interactions” with veterans during the election, concluding in part that veterans are targeted because they tend to be “community leaders” trusted by the public. Russian operatives went as far as to use advertising tools to target users by demographics and geography throughout 2016, prompting House and Senate investigators to question Facebook, Google, and Twitter executives about how foreign actors were exploiting their platforms to conduct influence operations.
Despite their exposure, however, these operations are ongoing—likely so that foreign actors can use them to spread divisive or fabricated news and other political content, especially in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections. In August 2017, the nonprofit Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) discovered a Facebook page bearing its name, logo, and registered trademark that was not affiliated with the organization and whose posts linked to “vvets.eu”—a website anonymously registered through Netfinity JSC of Bulgaria. The page shared divisive political content, including posts about the NFL “Take a Knee” boycott controversies and the racially charged “Blue Lives Matter” movement.