Facebook bans pages aimed at U.S. election interference

Mark Zuckerberg

"And we've found evidence of some connections between these accounts and IRA accounts we disabled past year".

However, the company said the efforts were similar to Russia's efforts during the 2016 Presidential Election campaign. Facebook has been unable to tie the accounts to Russian Federation, whose Internet Research Agency was at the center of an indictment earlier this year for interfering with the 2016 election.

The social media giant said it removed 32 accounts from Facebook and Instagram because they were involved in "co-ordinated" behaviour and appeared to be fake.

It said the "bad actor" accounts on the world's biggest social network and its photo-sharing site Instagram could not be tied to Russian actors, who USA officials say used the platform to spread disinformation ahead of the 2016 presidential election in the United States.

Inauthentic pages dating back more than a year organized an array of real world events, all but two of which have taken place, according to Facebook. It has cracked down on fake accounts and tried to slow the spread of fake news and misinformation through outside fact-checkers.

The pages were deeply rooted in divisive topics, like the #AbolishICE campaign to shut down the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, a page called Resisters that had interacted with an IRA account and a page planning another Unite the Right white supremacist rally like the one that occurred in Charlottesville, Va.in August 2017.

According to a Facebook official, the company held briefings in the House and Senate this week.

During a media briefing today, Facebook's chief information security officer Alex Stamos said the network behind these accounts did more to hide their identities than the Russia-backed Internet Research Agency did in 2016, including using VPNs and internet phone services, and paying third parties to place ads on their behalf. For example, they used virtual private networks and internet phone services to mask their locations, and paid third parties to run ads on their behalf.




But while Facebook was quick to emphasize the company isn't yet attributing the campaign to Russian Federation, there are still some connections.

It's clear that whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities than the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) has in the past.

Burr said the goal of influence operations "is to sow discord, distrust, and division in an attempt to undermine public faith in our institutions and our political system".

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, wrote that more than 290,000 accounts followed one or more of the pages. But Facebook said the profiles shared a pattern of behavior with the previous Russian disinformation campaign, which was led by a group with Kremlin ties called the Internet Research Agency. "These discoveries helped us uncover the other inauthentic accounts we disabled today". The Atlantic Council, an outside group assisting Facebook in weeding out inauthentic actors, identified a 4,000-member group allegedly launched by Russian agents but dormant since it was disabled past year.

But Facebook isn't blaming Russian Federation directly - at least, not yet.

The announcement is Facebook's first acknowledgement of potential meddling ahead of the midterm elections in the United States in November.

"Today, Facebook took a significant step in making this information public and it should continue working to quickly identify who is behind this", Nebraska Republican Sen.

Facebook said it would continue to investigate the activity and share any further findings with law enforcement and Congress. "We know that Russian Federation is coming back in 2018, 2020, and beyond".

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