Facebook removes 32 fake accounts involved in political influence campaign

Top Intel Dem says new Facebook finding 'further evidence' of Russian meddling

Greg Nash

The other removed material included eight Facebook pages, 17 Facebook profiles, and seven accounts of the photo-sharing site Instagram.

The Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) was indeed involved in election interference during the 2016 presidential campaign. "The Russians want a weak America", said Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee and one of several lawmakers Facebook had briefed in advance.

"I think with pretty high confidence that.this was Russian-related", he said.

Facebook says it has uncovered sophisticated efforts to influence U.S. politics on its platforms. Over this time period, they generated 9,500 posts and ran 150 ads for about $11,000.

Except Facebook says this counter-protest was organized not by actual concerned citizens, but by inauthentic "bad actors" whose main goal was probably to sow discord and undermine American politics.

Facebook stopped short of saying the effort was aimed at influencing the United States midterm elections in November, although the timing of the suspicious activity would be consistent with such an attempt.

It added that it "may never be able to identify the source" for the fake accounts.

The New York Times reported the company was working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the investigation. These messages went viral, reaching more than 100 million Americans. Facebook's shares promptly dropped nearly 20 percent and haven't recovered.

While its executives aren't pointing the finger at Russian Federation, they said it's strikingly similar to a previous internal investigation that concluded the Russia-backed Internet Research Agency pushed divisive content to 126 million Americans ahead of the 2016 presidential elections. The accounts seemed focused on building up an online audience and moving it to offline events, such as protests.

▻ The Pages created about 30 events since May 2017.

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.

COO Sheryl Sandberg said the company has deleted and removed 32 Facebook and Instagram accounts that engaged in coordinated efforts to mislead and manipulate people.

Today's announcement is meant to send the message that Facebook is on top of the problem. The money was paid in US and Canadian dollars from April 2017 to June 2018. A co-administrator for one of the pages was a known IRA account, Facebook security chief Alex Stamos said on the conference call. The discovery comes amid primaries for midterm elections across the country.

Representative Adam Schiff (Democrat-California) speaks during an interview with Mike Allen of Axios in Washington, DC, on January 31, 2018. "Foreign bad actors are using the exact same playbook they used in 2016", he said. They are "dividing us along political and ideological lines, to the detriment of our cherished democratic system".

Facebook said it uncovered coordinated activity on issues like a sequel to last year's deadly "Unite the Right" white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in which anti-fascist protesters clashed with white nationalists, one of whom struck and killed a peaceful protester with his vehicle.

Mr. Mueller's indictment of a dozen Russians last month provided another thread, according to Facebook. But he said that Democrats, not his fellow Republicans, would be the ones supported by Russian Federation.

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