Published: Wed, August 01, 2018
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Facebook uncovers 'coordinated' political influence campaign ahead of USA midterms

Facebook uncovers 'coordinated' political influence campaign ahead of USA midterms

Facebook said Tuesday that it had discovered a sophisticated coordinated disinformation operation on its platform involving 32 false pages and profiles engaging in divisive messaging ahead of the USA midterm elections.

Facebook said the accounts - eight Facebook pages, 17 Facebook profiles, and seven Instagram accounts - were created between March 2017 and May 2018 and first discovered two weeks ago.

The company said it was unable to link any of the accounts or pages to Russian Federation, but admitted that some of their activity was "consistent" with that of the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-backed organisation accused of interfering with the 2016 presidential.

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.

It said it had removed 32 pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram, part of an effort to combat foreign meddling in USA elections.

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There were more than 9,500 organic posts created by these accounts on Facebook, and one piece of content on Instagram. The Event - "No Unite the Right 2 - DC" - was scheduled to protest an August "Unite the Right" event in Washington.

"Security isn't a problem you ever completely solve", said the company's chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, in a Facebook post.

We disabled the event earlier today and have reached out to the admins of the five other Pages to update them on what happened.

Facebook has removed a network of accounts and pages it suspects were run by a Russian group, the company told lawmakers Tuesday. Sandberg said on the call that Facebook wanted to disclose its findings on the coordinated campaign because of the timing of the event. 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.

Based on the information Facebook released, this particular group of fake pages was targeting people on the left.

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Facebook noted that one IRA tactic was to have its operators engage with legitimate pages and accounts, creating a more dense web. In fact, Facebook found connections between some of the new suspicious accounts and previously identified IRA accounts.

Facebook has not yet officially attributed these fake accounts and pages to the IRA or the Russian government, like in 2016. "Also, the playbook is established, so we are seeing domestic ideologues, economically motivated actors and others come in the replicate it", said Renée DiResta, an expert on disinformation and research director at New Knowledge, a nonprofit advocacy group of technologists that focus on disinformation.

Facebook said it's working with law enforcement to investigate the campaign. "It's an arms race and we need to constantly improve too", it puffed itself up in one of the three posts on the issue.

"These bad actors have been more careful to cover their tracks, in part due to the actions we've taken to prevent abuse over the past year", Gleicher said.

"It demonstrates again a huge vulnerability that we have where these people who claim to be somebody else can foment such conflict and dissension within our society", said Cornyn, the Senate's No. 2 Republican. They are "dividing us along political and ideological lines, to the detriment of our cherished democratic system".

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