Facebook finds ‘sophisticated’ efforts to disrupt US politics – possibly by Russia – ahead of midterm elections

The company says it removed 32 accounts from Facebook and Instagram involved in ‘coordinated’ behaviour and appeared to be fake; there may be connections to Russia

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 1:14am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 10:00pm

Facebook says it has uncovered “sophisticated” efforts, possibly linked to Russia, to influence US politics on its platforms.

The social media company said on Tuesday that it removed 32 accounts from Facebook and Instagram because they were involved in “coordinated” behaviour and appeared to be fake.

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

According to a Facebook official, the company held briefings in the House of Representatives and the Senate this week. The official declined to be named because the briefings were private. Facebook disclosed its findings after The New York Times reported on them earlier Tuesday.

The company said it does not know who is behind the efforts, but said there may be connections to Russia.

Facebook said it has found some connections between the accounts it removed and the accounts connected to Russia’s internet Research Agency that it removed before and after the 2016 US presidential elections.

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The earliest page was created in March 2017. Facebook said more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the fake pages.

Among them, the most-followed pages were “Aztlan Warriors”, “Black Elevation”, “Mindful Being” and “Resisters”.

Facebook said the pages ran about 150 ads for US$11,000 on Facebook and Instagram, paid for in US and Canadian dollars. The first ad was created in April 2017; the last was created in June 2018.

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The company added that the perpetrators have been “more careful to cover their tracks” than in 2016, in part because of steps Facebook has taken to prevent abuse over the past year.

For example, they used virtual private networks and internet phone services, and paid third parties to run ads on their behalf.