Facebook Uncovers New, Covert Effort Pushing Political Divisions

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Facebook announced today that it removed 32 Facebook and Instagram accounts and pages for exhibiting behavior consistent a political influence campaign, which Facebook said it previously saw during the 2016 US Presidential Election.

Facebook said more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of these phony pages, which used names such as Aztlan Warriors, Black Elevation, Mindful Being and Resisters.

"We hope to get new information from law enforcement and other companies so we can better understand what happened - and we'll share any additional findings with law enforcement and Congress", wrote Facebook cybersecurity lead Nathaniel Gleicher in a blog post. "We don't have flawless information".

The news from Facebook comes just days after US President Donald Trump suggested that Russian Federation might interfere in the upcoming midterm elections, but that they would be "pushing very hard for the Democrats" because "no President has been tougher on Russia" than him.

The social media giant said the accounts were responsible for almost 10,000 posts and had spent $11,000 on 150 ads in the past year focused on controversial social issues such as white supremacist marches and immigration policies.

In the wake of the scandal, Facebook made several changes to its advertising operations.

Democrats were quick to jump on the Russia-blaming bandwagon, however, with Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) releasing a statement blaming Moscow for creating the Facebook accounts and suggesting this was "further evidence" that the Kremlin was exploiting platforms like Facebook to "sow division and spread disinformation" in the US. The account was an admin for 7 minutes before it was identified and removed. "We haven't seen those here", it said.

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Since the 2016 election, Facebook has cracked down on fake accounts and tried to slow the spread of fake news and misinformation through outside fact-checkers. But there are differences as well, Gleicher said.

"Attribution is not necessary for us to find and stop this behavior", Stamos said.

Facebook revealed that the bad actors had created 30 Facebook events since May 2017, most of which had been scheduled over the past year.

The Resisters page enlisted support from real followers for an August protest in Washington against the far-right "Unite the Right" group.

Facebook said it uncovered coordinated activity on issues like a sequel to last year's deadly "Unite the Right" white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in which anti-fascist protesters clashed with white nationalists, one of whom struck and killed a peaceful protester with his auto.

Facebook said the perpetrators this year were "more careful to cover their tracks" than those it found trying to influence the 2016 election, in part because of steps it has taken to prevent a recurrence of the 2016 abuses. In one case, a known IRA account was listed as an administrator on a Facebook page controlled by the newly banned group.

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. Warner also said he hoped Facebook would continue working to identify "Russian troll activity" on the website. Disclosure: Sean's wife works for Facebook as an internal video producer. The imminence of that event was what prompted Facebook to go public with this information.

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