An Australian trade union organizer has been suspended amid claims he ran a fake Black Lives Matter Facebook page that siphoned off hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.
The page garnered almost 700,000 followers — dwarfing the Black Lives Matter movement’s official page — before it was suspended by Facebook. It is alleged some of the bank accounts where the money was transferred were in Australia and it was unclear how much was provided to genuine causes – if at all.
The scam site is claimed to have collected money through online fundraisers and solicited more than $US100,000 in donations, according to a CNN report.
Ian MacKay, the official in question, worked at the hard left National Union of Workers and has dozens of websites related to black rights registered under his name, including blackpowerfist.com. Mr. Mackay did not respond to questions from CNN but said, “My domain name buying and selling is a personal hobby.”
On Twitter, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrice Cullors, said she had complained many times to Facebook about numerous fake accounts.
“We told [Facebook] over and over again to shut that shit down. And it wouldn’t. Glad it’s down now,” she wrote.
“It’s so unfortunate folks were scammed by fake BLM accounts and people.”
The discoveries come as Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg prepares to give testimony before multiple judiciary committees in Washington this week.
Mr. Zuckerberg is expected to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday to testify about the company’s user data scandal.
In a recent call with members of the media, he commented on the company’s treatment of private data by saying that when building an “unprecedented” platform like Facebook, “there are going to be things that you mess up.”
He will tell politicians his company “didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility” and will lay out steps to make it right, after revelations about the abuse of users’ personal information .
“As Facebook has grown, people everywhere have gotten a powerful new tool to stay connected to the people they love, make their voices heard, and build communities and businesses,” Mr Zuckerberg will say, according to prepared testimony released by a House committee on Monday.
“But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well.”
For at least a year, the biggest page on Facebook purporting to be part of the Black Lives Matter movement was a scam with ties to a middle-aged white man in Australia, a review of the page and associated accounts and websites conducted by CNN shows.
The page, titled simply “Black Lives Matter,” had almost 700,000 followers on Facebook, more than twice as many as the official Black Lives Matter page. It was tied to online fundraisers that brought in at least $100,000 that supposedly went to Black Lives Matter causes in the U.S. At least some of the money, however, was transferred to Australian bank accounts, CNN has learned.
Fundraising campaigns associated with the Facebook page were suspended by PayPal and Patreon after CNN contacted each of the companies for comment. Donorbox and Classy had already removed the campaigns.
The discovery raises new questions about the integrity of Facebook’s platform and the content hosted there. In the run-up to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress this week, Facebook has announced plans to make the people running large pages verify their identity and location. But it’s not clear that the change would affect this page: Facebook has not said what information about page owners it will disclose to the public — and, presented with CNN’s findings, Facebook initially said the page didn’t violate its “Community Standards.”
Only after almost a week of emails and calls between CNN and Facebook about this story did Facebook suspend the page, and then only because it had suspended a user account that administrated the page.
The discovery also raises questions about Facebook’s commitment to change, and to policing its platform, even in the midst of its PR offensive leading up to Zuckerberg’s testimony. Not for the first time, Facebook took action against a major bad actor on its site not on its own but because journalists made inquiries.
Indeed, Facebook was told of concerns about the page some time ago. Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, told CNN that Black Lives Matter had, suspecting the page was a scam, contacted Facebook about removing it a few months ago.
The Facebook page was — separate from Facebook’s suspension of it — apparently taken down by a person who administrated the page shortly after CNN contacted one of the Australian men who may be associated with it. “Black Lives Matter” appears to have been set up some time in 2016.
The people behind the page also ran a hugely popular Facebook Group also titled “Black Lives Matter.” With almost 40,000 members, it appears to be the biggest group on the platform professing to be supporting Black Lives Matter. Facebook Groups are similar to traditional discussion forums, and unlike pages, people normally need to request to join. [btnsx id=”5955″]
Largest Black Lives Matter page on Facebook was a scam: report
The largest pro-Black Lives Matter page on Facebook was actually a scam tied to a white man in Australia, CNN reported on Monday.
The page had accrued 700,000 Facebook followers — almost double the amount of the official Black Lives Matter Facebook page — and is linked to several online fundraisers which garnered $100,000 in donations, according to CNN. At least some of the money was reportedly transferred to Australian bank accounts.
CNN reported that Facebook only deleted the page a week after the news outlet reported it to the company.
Facebook said that it’s working on new tools to detect fake accounts when asked for comment.
“We’ve developed several techniques to help detect and block inauthentic activity. When people report impersonators using our built-in reporting flows, our teams review each one and take the appropriate action,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “Just last week, Facebook introduced new machine learning techniques to detect and action more than a half-million accounts related to fraudulent activity.”
Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, told CNN that her group had contacted Facebook months ago about the page’s removal, after suspecting it was a scam.
The page’s organizers ran a separate group, also called Black Lives Matter, which had another 40,000 members, according to CNN.
The page linked to websites tied to Ian Mackay, a National Union of Workers official in Australia, who did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
The actual Black Lives Matter page has a blue checkmark, indicating that Facebook has verified the page as legitimate.
Facebook has faced a slew of questions concerning the integrity of its hosted content in the wake of President Trump‘s election. The issue had previously come to light following revelations of Russian manipulation on the platform during the 2016 presidential race.
A Russian group called the Internet Research Agency, which posed as an American group, set up immensely popular Facebook pages like BlackMattersUS and Heart Of Texas. The pages were ultimately removed during Facebook’s sweep of Kremlin-linked accounts and pages.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify before lawmakers this will week. They are expected to press him on the manipulation of his platform for nefarious purposes.