- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Facebook’s former head of security questioned in an interview released Tuesday if the company’s popular Instagram app can withstand being weaponized during the 2020 presidential race.

Alex Stamos, who was Facebook’s chief security officer when Russian internet trolls used social media to meddle in the previous White House race, voiced related concerns about Instagram while discussing the popular image- and video-sharing platform during the latest episode of the “Vergecast” podcast.

“I think that the hardest thing for Facebook is going to be to try to predict how the non-Facebook products are to be used,” said Mr. Stamos, who left Facebook in late 2018 and currently serves as the director of the Internet Observatory at Stanford University.

“The fact that Instagram is mostly images give some benefit, but not a ton,” Mr. Stamos added. “As you know, the Russian troll factories have professional meme farms. Like they have graphic designers using Illustrator all day to create memes. So, ‘Is Instagram ready?’ is actually a big question.”

Facebook previously disclosed that the company identified hundreds of accounts active during the 2016 elections that had been operated by employees of the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based “troll factory” accused by prosecutors of attempting to interfere in the race by sowing discord on social media.

Millions of Facebook users viewed content during the 2016 race created by the Internet Research Agency, according to the company, including politically-charged memes and thousands of paid advertisements placed across both Facebook’s flagship social network and Instagram.

Facebook has since touted measures meant to prevent malicious actors from weaponizing its platforms, albeit with mixed success. Dozens of accounts allegedly tied to the Internet Research Agency were booted off both Facebook and Instagram last fall after being discovered on the eve of the November 2018 mid-term elections.

Representatives for Facebook and Instagram did not immediately return messages requesting comment Tuesday.

Facebook boasted around 2.7 billion monthly users across all its platforms as of April 2019, including Facebook and Instagram in addition to the company’s Messenger and WhatsApp messaging services.

Launched in 2010 and acquired by Facebook in 2012, Instagram alone boasted one billion monthly users as of last year.

An investigation into the 2016 election conducted by the special counsel’s office at the Department of Justice resulted in federal prosecutors bringing criminal charges against several Russian individuals and entities associated with the Internet Research Agency, including several employees and its parent company, Concord Management and Consulting, among others.

Through its attorneys Concord has pleaded not guilty in the case.

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