Facebook made international headlines last Friday with reports that the cybersecurity firm Graphika had determined that Stone and his associates created a disinformation network that prompted Facebook to launch a takedown effort of fake accounts that stretched from Canada to Brazil, from Ecuador to Ukraine. From a report at the South Florida SunSentinel, which covers Stone's home base of Fort Lauderdale:
Roger Stone spent a half-century honing his skills as a political operator and building a reputation as a stop-at-nothing dirty trickster, in support of a range of big-name politicians and causes, including Donald Trump and Richard Nixon.Facebook apparently spared no expense in tracking the Stone network. From Facebook's report on its internal investigation:
Now, a report from the cybersecurity firm Graphika suggests that Stone — who in recent years has become one of Fort Lauderdale’s best-known residents — was able to translate his real-world approach to the online world, exploiting the social media platform Facebook as he pursued goals that included promoting Trump and himself.
A closer look at the document shows how the Sunshine State emerged as an epicenter for the disinformation network, which set out to meddle in Florida politics and beyond.
The social media giant ultimately took down a network of 54 Facebook accounts, 50 pages and four from Instagram, another social media site it owns. A map showed 15 locations of the accounts were in Florida, mostly along the east coast from Vero Beach to Miami; a handful were elsewhere.
Some pages associated with Stone promoted Stone, and often his books. Some attempted to influence legislation and criticized enemies — including Hillary Clinton — sometimes with negative messages. Some used fake names and were illustrated with faces found on the internet.
“Our investigation linked this network to Roger Stone and his associates,” Facebook said. Some had links to the far-right group Proud Boys, Facebook said.
We found this network as part of our internal investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to political consultants and former government employees in Ecuador and Estraterra, a Canada-based PR firm. Estraterra is now banned from our platforms.
Several of these Pages had links to Proud Boys, a hate group we banned in 2018. Some Pages appeared to have acquired followers from Pakistan and Egypt to make themselves seem more popular than they were. This network — which was also active on other internet platforms — was most active between 2015 and 2017. Since then, the majority of these accounts have been dormant, and some were permanently deleted by the users. The Page admins and account owners posted about local politics in Florida, Roger Stone and his Pages, websites, books, and media appearances.
Stone's social network unraveled primarily because of his ties to the Proud Boys and Robert Mueller's investigation of the Trump-Russia scandal from the 2016 presidential election. From the internal Facebook report:
We first started looking into this network as part of our investigation into the Proud Boys’ attempts to return to Facebook after we had designated and banned them from the platform. We identified the full scope of this network following the recent public release of search warrants pertaining to the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in response to a joint petition from The New York Times, CNN, the Associated Press, The Washington Post, and Politico. Our investigation linked this network to Roger Stone and his associates.
How does Legal Schnauzer enter the picture? The SunSentinel explains:
The [Facebook] report, issued last month, tied one example of online harassment by the network to a Sarah Jameson Facebook account, which purported to be a woman living in Plantation.
Roger Shuler, who writes an online blog called “Legal Schnauzer,” said he received a barrage of profanity-laden emails from some claiming to be a “Sarah Jameson” in 2015 and 2016. The person emailing was upset over Shuler’s critical posts about then-U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and federal Judge Bill Pryor.
Shuler said he looked up Jameson’s Facebook page and found a “Roger Stone shrine.” It seemed bizarre enough for him to write on his blog about the account with only 18 friends and posts promoting Stone.
“I definitely had suspicions that it was a fake account or a false identity,” Shuler said. “It was kind of like a fan-girl page. Not much in-depth information. Whoever it was seemed to like Roger Stone for some reason.”
“It made me wonder: Roger Stone is known for dirty tricks. Was he involved in some of this?” Shuler added.
The Mueller search warrants apparently helped prove, among other things, that Stone and Co. targeted Legal Schnauzer for what likely can best be described as a cyber harassment and cyber stalking campaign. Ours is the only blog mentioned in the Graphika report as a specific target of the Stone network:
Similarly, a Facebook account called “Sarah Jameson” that Facebook identified as part of the network matched names and profile pictures with an account called @S_jameson82 on Twitter. The Twitter account was created in 2016 and stopped posting in early 2017; of its 20 most recent posts, 11 focused on Stone or advertised his books. Most of the rest focused on Donald Trump’s election campaign in 2016 and the controversy over his ban on immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries in early 2017.
Some of the network’s activity also suggests harassment or incitement to harassment, sometimes in a coordinated fashion. One such incident was attributed to the “Sarah Jameson” persona. According to legal blog “Legal Schnauzer” in January 2017, a persona with this name sent the blogger at least one “argumentative and ugly” email. A persona more broadly called “Sarah” sent many more messages. The blogger associated the emails with the Facebook account and included a copy of its profile picture.
How ugly did the messages from "Sarah" get? We will address that question in an upcoming post.
(To be continued)