Published: Thu, August 02, 2018
Global | By Craig Ferguson

Facebook Says It Removed Pages Involved In Deceptive Political Influence Campaign

Facebook Says It Removed Pages Involved In Deceptive Political Influence Campaign

Social media colossus Facebook said Tuesday that it had identified a coordinated effort to influence United States politics, with dozens of bogus accounts and pages engaging in political skulduggery before midterm elections - and that the sophisticated effort could be linked to Russian Federation.

The perpetrators, Facebook noted, 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. They managed to create about 30 events since May 2017, with the largest event showing about 4,700 accounts interested in attending.

This time, though, the pages Facebook found focused "exclusively at engaging and influencing the left end of the American political spectrum", the Atlantic Council researchers said.

Facebook discovered coordinated activity around issues like a sequel to last year's deadly "Unite the Right" white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The company previously had said 126 million Americans may have seen Russian-backed political content on Facebook over a two-year period, and that 16 million may have been exposed to Russian information on Instagram. Almost 300,000 people followed at least one of the newly banned accounts and thousands expressed interest in events they promoted. The pages and accounts-which include names such as "Aztlan Warriors", "Black Elevation,". Facebook said that the people behind the accounts went to greater lengths to hide their identities than in past influence campaigns.

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 U.S. officials say used the platform to spread disinformation ahead of the 2016 presidential election in the United States.

However, the company said the efforts were similar to Russia's efforts during the 2016 Presidential Election campaign.

"Whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their identities" than Russian Federation did in 2016, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said Tuesday.

Russian Federation was found to have used Facebook to meddle in the 2016 USA presidential election - notably through a troll farm called the Internet Research Agency - but Facebook is not explicitly linking the new efforts to Russian Federation.

"Of note, the events coordinated by - or with help from - inauthentic accounts did have a very real, organic, and engaged online community; however, the intent of the inauthentic activity appeared to be created to catalyze the most incendiary impulses of political sentiment", the Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL), which is analyzing the inauthentic activity and accounts, said in a blog post.

Facebook said the pages it deleted ran about 150 ads costing $11,000 on Facebook and Instagram, paid for in USA and Canadian dollars.

Gleicher said the creators of these inauthentic accounts went to great lengths to disguise their identities, employing virtual public networks and internet phone services.

Their statement reads: "We face determined, well-funded adversaries who will never give up and are constantly changing tactics". It also said it has shared the information with US law enforcement agencies, Congress, and other technology companies.

The news was earlier reported by The New York Times, which said lawmakers on Capitol Hill were told this week.

The accounts, which were followed by over 290,000 Facebook users, were created between March 2017 and May 2018, the social media giant said. Both US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have said, however, that they want to improve ties between the two nuclear powers.

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