The Shadow Organizing of Facebook Groups

How political lies and conspiracies are spreading without detection

Jonathan Albright
10 min readNov 5, 2018


Photo: Thought Catalog/flickr/CC BY 2.0

This is the second installment of The Micro-Propaganda Machine, a three-part analysis critically examining the issues at the interface of platforms, propaganda, and politics.

In 2016, discussions about Facebook and the election tended to focus mostly on pages and paid ads. Well, it’s 2018, and this time around, we have another problem to talk about: Facebook groups.

In my extensive look into Facebook, I’ve found that groups have become the preferred base for coordinated information influence activities on Facebook. This shift reflects the product’s most important advantage: The posts and activities of the actors who join them are hidden within the group. Until they choose to share them, that is.

Inside these political groups—numbering anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of member users—activities are perfectly obscured. However, the effects and consequences of these activities can be significant. The individual posts, photos, events, and files shared within these groups are generally not discoverable through Facebook’s standard search feature or through the APIs that allow content to be retrieved from public pages. Yet once the posts leave these groups, they can gain traction and initiate large-scale information-seeding and political influence without being easily traced.

As a result, actors who used to operate on pages have now colonized groups, and they’re using them more than ever. My analysis found disinformation and conspiracies being seeded across hundreds of different groups—most falling into what would best be described as political “astroturfing.” (Astroturfing it when an organization gives the appearance that it’s a grassroots org started by everyday citizens, when in reality, it’s being funded by motivated sponsors.)

Members of groups often reappear across related political groups and, in some cases, play roles as curators and “translators,” reminding others to screenshot and cut-and-paste shared content into their own posts to circumvent Facebook’s automated detection mechanisms, to avoid censorship, and to prevent future attribution of their posts.



Jonathan Albright

Professor and researcher in news, journalism, and #hashtags. Award-nominated data journalist. Media, communication, and technology.

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