Facebook says identified 'political influence campaign' ahead of U.S. midterm elections

Posted August 02, 2018

Facebook said the "inauthentic" accounts displayed activity similar to that of accounts the social media giant had earlier linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA) - a Russian entity which western media have often linked to Russia's alleged attempts to influence the 2016 United States presidential election.

The perpetrators in this case took more trouble to cover their tracks, using VPNs and third-party companies to post the ads, so it'd be hard to say with certainty who implemented the campaign.

Except Facebook says this counter-protest was organized not by actual concerned citizens, but by inauthentic "bad actors" whose main objective was probably to sow discord and undermine American politics. Facebook said it has found some links between the accounts it removed and the accounts created by Russia's Internet Research Agency that it removed before and after the 2016 USA presidential elections.

The intelligence panel is planning a hearing in early September with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey, and an executive from Google.

For example, after the Resisters account created a Facebook event for a protest on 10 to 12 August called "No Unite the Right 2", five other page owners offered to co-host the demonstration and posted details about transportation and locations.

The statement said all accounts had been removed and information was passed to USA government and law enforcement agencies.

Some of the deleted pages include "Aztlan Warriors", "Resisters" and "Black Elevation". The page also briefly listed an IRA account as one of its administrators.

"We removed all of them this morning once we'd completed our initial investigation and shared the information with U.S. law enforcement agencies, Congress, other technology companies, and the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, a research organization that helps us identify and analyze abuse on Facebook", the statement continued.

Updated 4:02 pm ET with new information regarding a potential Russian connection to the accounts and pages Facebook removed.

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Samples of the inauthentic activity.

The accounts also spent about $11,000 for 150 ads on Facebook and Instagram.

After it became clear that Russia-linked actors used social media to try to influence the 2016 US election, Facebook has stepped up its efforts to ensure that what happened then does not happen again. Most left fewer clues to their identities behind, and appear to have taken pains not to post too much authored content.

"We applaud efforts by our private-sector partners to combat an array of threats that occur in cyberspace, including malign influence", said Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

Nathaniel Gleicher, the Head of Cybersecurity Policy, said Facebook couldn't identify who was behind the campaign with certainty, but did compare the pattern of behavior with those of the infamous Russian "troll farm," the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

The coordination has been occurring on eight Facebook pages, 17 profiles and seven Instagram accounts, which Facebook wrote it first found two weeks ago.

Facebook has been grappling with continuing public backlash for being slow to recognise Russian interference in the 2016 USA presidential election, along with widespread concerns over its past data-sharing practices.

In a series of briefings on Capitol Hill this week, the company told lawmakers that it detected the influence campaign on Facebook and Instagram as part of its investigations into election interference.

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