Facebook is testing a Messenger feature that would identify suspicious accounts

Facebook is currently testing a new feature for Messenger that
would identify suspicious accounts sending unwarranted direct
messages, letting users know the account’s country of origin by
phone number and whether it was recently created. The new
feature was first
disclosed by Motherboard
, which received a
screenshot of the test from multimedia artist Erin Gallagher.
Facebook confirmed to Motherboard that it is indeed
testing the feature, but spokesperson Dalya Browne said it was
a “small test” at the moment.

Though the feature looks to be geared toward fighting scams and
unsolicited messages from accounts using fake or misleading
identities, there is an element of Facebook fighting growing
misinformation and bots from countries like Russia. The
screenshot provided to Motherboard screenshot
indicates that it can notify a user when an unsolicited message
was sent from a Messenger account that’s not paired with an
official Facebook one and when that account is tied to a
Russian phone number. The screenshot also shows how Facebook
will list the account as “recently created.” Implicitly, Russia
is Facebook’s primary adversary in its fight against
misinformation and fake news, much of which is spread on the
social network using fake accounts purporting to be American
citizens.

Facebook is still dealing with the aftermath of Russia’s
massive state-sponsored misinformation campaign conducted in
the run up to, during, and after the 2016 presidential
election. The company is still
actively suspending accounts linked to the Internet Research
Agency
, a Kremlin-tied propaganda outfit dedicated to
seeding disinformation and distrust in the America public by
way of fake accounts, pages, news, and comments on US social
networking sites. Facebook is also now
working with researchers to measure the impact of fake news on
democratic elections
and the overall effect of
misinformation in the News Feed.

In addition to those efforts, Facebook also launched a new
literacy campaign in May alongside a massive print advertising
campaign to help educate both the general public and its active
user base about misinformation and how to spot and stop the
spread of fake news. The company is committing resources in its
artificial intelligence research division to using automated
software to fight misinformation, though that
broader AI-driven moderation effort has significant
roadblocks
to overcome to successfully function as an
alternative to human-guided moderation and direct oversight.

Update 7/10, 4:40PM ET: Clarified
that the Facebook Messenger feature being tested is geared
toward combating scams and not specifically about fighting
Russia misinformation campaigns. The headline has been updated
to reflect this fact.

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