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Facebook Says it's Identified Active Fake Accounts Aimed at Political Disruption

By NexChange
Capital Markets

Facebook announced on Tuesday that it had removed 32 accounts – from its platform and Instagram’s – that it says “were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

The company said its investigation is in the early stages and it does not know who is behind the fake accounts. Facebook also said that it is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other intelligence agencies in the inquiry.

However, while Facebook cannot yet say definitively who coordinated the fake accounts, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said in a call with reporters it has found similarities with those created by the Internet Research Agency – an organization thought to be connected with the Kremlin and alleged to have interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“During our investigation, we determined that some of the activity from these accounts and pages is consistent with what we’ve seen from the IRA and we discovered that some of the accounts and pages had been connected with known IRA accounts at some point,” Gleicher said.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said in the same call that it’s “clear that whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities” than the IRA did during the run-up to the 2016 election. Facebook said in a statement that “this could be partly due to changes we’ve made over the last year to make this kind of abuse much harder.”
Here is what Facebook has found so far through its investigation:
  • In total, more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of these Pages, the earliest of which was created in March 2017. The latest was created in May 2018.
  • The most followed Facebook Pages were “Aztlan Warriors,” “Black Elevation,” “Mindful Being,” and “Resisters.” The remaining Pages had between zero and 10 followers, and the Instagram accounts had zero followers.
  • There were more than 9,500 organic posts created by these accounts on Facebook, and one piece of content on Instagram.
  • They ran about 150 ads for approximately $11,000 on Facebook and Instagram, paid for in US and Canadian dollars. The first ad was created in April 2017, and the last was created in June 2018.
  • The Pages created about 30 events since May 2017. About half had fewer than 100 accounts interested in attending. The largest had approximately 4,700 accounts interested in attending, and 1,400 users said that they would attend.

Facebook, of course, has drawn a significant amount of criticism – from the media, from Facebook users and from regulators – for being slow to react to the alleged Russian interference in 2016. CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in April about the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which about 87 million users had their data illegally shared – and which has been connected to Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“We didn’t see it, but once we saw it, we did something about it,” Zuckerberg said at the time.

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, who has been at the forefront of investigating tech’s role in allowing Russia to spread disinformation on its platforms, told TechCrunch in a statement that Facebook’s disclosure of the fake accounts is “further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation, and I am glad that Facebook is taking some steps to pinpoint and address this activity,”

Meanwhile, Sandberg acknowledged that Facebook is still trying to get ahead of efforts being made by people and organizations using the platform for political disruption.

“Security is an arms race and it’s never done,” she said in the call with reporters. “We’ve made it harder for inauthentic actors to operate on Facebook, yet we face determined, well – funded adversaries who won’t give up and who are constantly changing tactics. That means we need to continually improve as well.”
Photo: Getty iStock

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