Facebook finds 'sophisticated' efforts to disrupt United States politics, removes 32 accounts

Adjust Comment Print

Facebook has identified an ongoing effort to influence the United States mid-term elections, using inauthentic accounts and pages on the social network.

"It's clear whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their identities than the Internet Research Agency did in the run up to the 2016 presidential election", said Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, in a call with reporters.

But Facebook said on Tuesday that "some of the activity is consistent" with that of the Saint Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) - the Russian troll farm that managed many false Facebook accounts used during the 2016 vote.

More than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the pages and that about US$11,000 (S$15,000) had been spent on about 150 ads, Facebook said.

Some of those fake accounts included pages like "Aztlan Warriors", "Black Elevation", "Mindful Being", and "Resisters".

On a Tuesday conference call, Facebook executives declined to say much more, including whether the pages spanned a range of political opinion and whether the accounts mentioned specific candidates or politicians.

According to The New York Times, which first reported the news, these accounts have engaged in a "coordinated political influence campaign". One of them, called "No Unite the Right 2 - DC", was scheduled in Washington for August 10 as a counter-protest to a "Unite the Right" in the same city.

"We don't have all the facts, but we'll work closely with others as we continue our investigation", Facebook said.

Facebook did not want to talk about who could have been behind these accounts because they said that there isn't enough evidence to point the finger at Russian Federation.

The announcement came as Facebook is under pressure over inflammatory content, coordinated disinformation campaigns and data breaches on its platform.

The ads were paid for in both USA and Canadian dollars, starting in April 2017 and ending in June 2018.

We're told 17 profiles and eight pages in all were chopped from Facebook along with seven Instagram profiles.

However, the company added that it had found some connections between these fake accounts and the removed IRA accounts.

Facebook said it made a decision to share the information, despite not having all the facts, because there was a "connection" between the pages in question and a number of protests that were planned for Washington, DC next week. Regardless of the effort put forth by Menlo Park engineers and security researchers, Facebook - with its 2 billion monthly users and powerful micro-targeting tools - will forever be too tempting of a target for those looking to, say, sway an election.

Updated 4:02 pm ET with new information regarding a potential Russian connection to the accounts and pages Facebook removed.

Facebook said law enforcement officials and Congress have been notified about the company's actions and provided with the information Facebook gathered to trigger the removal.

The feds have warned for months that Russian Federation and others would try to meddle in the midterms. That means that there were people actually going to places because these people wanted them to go there.