Facebook has written a blog saying it has identified and removed 32 fake accounts and pages designed to influence the mid-term US elections in November.
“This kind of behavior is not allowed on Facebook because we don’t want people or organizations creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing,” the company wrote.
The company said on 31 July it had not linked the accounts to Russia, though some of the techniques the pages used were reminiscent of the tactics used by the Internet Research Agency (I.R.A), the group that is at the centre of alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
- The fake accounts included:
The impugned accounts had made more than 9,500 posts between them and had more than 290,000 followers though some of the account had next to no followers.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 31, 2018
The troll pages had also posted a number of events on Facebook, including a counter-rally to the controversial Unite the Right event in Charlottesburg, Virginia which left peaceful counter-protester Heather Heyer dead.
“At this point in our investigation, we do not have enough technical evidence to state definitively who is behind it,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy wrote.
“But we can say that these accounts engaged in some similar activity and have connected with known I.R.A accounts.”
Sharing an update on our work to remove bad actors on Facebookhttps://t.co/yAn3zF21j4
— Facebook (@facebook) July 31, 2018
Gleicher also said that the accounts had become more sophisticated and were using VPNs to conceal their identity and third party accounts to take out ads.
Facebook is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other government intelligence bodies on the matter.
The Daily Beast recently reported that its forensic analysis showed that Russian hackers had targeted Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill in the upcoming elections. McCaskill has been a vocal critic of Russia and is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats.
Facebook has been more active recently in deleting suspicious accounts. In the first quarter of 2018, it removed some 583 million bot accounts that had failed to meet basic security tests.
Facebook has removed the sophisticated trolling accounts but the end of fake news is nowhere in sight
Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said the company has “made it harder for inauthentic actors to operate on Facebook” but it was an ongoing battle. “We face determined well-funded adversaries who won’t give up and who are constantly changing tactics,” she said.
Sandberg also did a number of media interviews after the blog to detail what action the social media platform is taking to weed out fake news accounts and bad actors.
The transparency involved in this action to remove bad actors contrasts with last year, when the social media platform was widely criticised for its inadequate efforts to monitor or police Russian interference. In that instance, it took the company months to even admit Russian agents had used the platform to spread misinformation.
— Slate (@Slate) July 31, 2018
Lawmakers were highly critical of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s subsequent reluctance to testify on the issue. Zuckerberg eventually issued a statement on the Cambridge Analytica scandal and agreed to appear before Congress.
Richard Burr, a Republican senator from North Carolina and the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he welcomed Facebook’s efforts to crack down on foreign influence campaigns.
“The goal of these operations is to sow discord, distrust, and division in an attempt to undermine public faith in our institutions and our political system. The Russians want a weak America.
“There is still much that needs to be done to prevent and counter foreign interference on social media, however, and I look forward to discussing the issue further at tomorrow’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.”