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Facebook Pulls Down Hundreds of Accounts From Russia and Iran Aimed at Political Disruption

By NexChange
Financial Services

As the November U.S. midterm elections get closer, Facebook announced that it has pulled down hundreds of accounts for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that originated out of Russia and Iran.

The company said the pages were taken down from both Facebook and Instagram – and while it has “not identified any link or coordination between them,” the accounts “used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing.”

“We ban this kind of behavior because we want people to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook,” the company said in a statement. “And while we’re making progress rooting out this abuse, as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing challenge because the people responsible are determined and well funded. We constantly have to improve to stay ahead.”

Facebook said in a news release that it had been contacted with a tip in July by a cybersecurity firm called FireEye which alerted the social media company to a network of pages operated by “Liberty Front Press.” According to Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, the company was “able to link this network to Iranian state media through publicly available website registration information, as well as the use of related IP addresses and Facebook Pages sharing the same admins.”

“Some of them attempted to conceal their location, and they primarily posted political content focused on the Middle East, as well as the UK, US, and Latin America,” Gleicher wrote. “Beginning in 2017, they increased their focus on the UK and US. Accounts and Pages linked to ‘Liberty Front Press’ typically posed as news and civil society organizations sharing information in multiple countries without revealing their true identity.”

Here’s what Facebook found in the first part of its investigation:

 

  • Presence on Facebook and Instagram:  74 Pages, 70 accounts, and 3 groups on Facebook, as well as 76 accounts on Instagram.
  • Followers:  About 155,000 accounts followed at least one of these Pages, 2,300 accounts joined at least one of these groups, and more than 48,000 accounts followed at least one of these Instagram accounts.
  • Advertising:  More than $6,000 in spending for ads on Facebook and Instagram, paid for in US and Australian dollars. The first ad was run in Jan 2015, and the last was run in August 2018. Some ads have been blocked since the launch of our political ads transparency tools launched. We have not completed our review of the organic content coming from these accounts.
  • Events:  3 events hosted.

The second part of Facebook’s investigation found links between Liberty Front Press and a set of accounts and pages, first created back in 2016, that mostly posed as news organizations and “also engaged in traditional cybersecurity attacks, including attempts to hack people’s accounts and spread malware, which we had seen before and disrupted.”

Here’s what Facebook found in the second part of its investigation:

 

  • Presence on Facebook and Instagram: 12 Pages and 66 accounts on Facebook, as well as 9 accounts on Instagram.
  • Followers:  About 15,000 accounts followed at least one of these Pages and more than 1,100 followed at least one of these Instagram accounts.
  • Advertising:  We have found no advertising associated with these accounts or Pages. We have not completed our review of the organic content from these accounts.
  • Events:  We have found no events associated with these accounts or Pages.

The third part of Facebook’s investigation found another set of accounts and pages dating back to 2011, which mostly shared content about Middle East politics in Arabic and Farsi. They also also shared content about politics in the UK and US in English.

Here’s what Facebook found the third part of its investigation:

 

  • Presence on Facebook and Instagram:  168 Pages and 140 accounts on Facebook, as well as 31 accounts on Instagram.
  • Followers:  About 813,000 accounts followed at least one of these Pages and more than 10,000 followed at least one of these Instagram accounts.
  • Advertising:  More than $6,000 in spending for ads on Facebook and Instagram, paid for in US dollars, Turkish lira, and Indian rupees. The first ad was run in July 2012, and the last was run in April 2018. We have not completed our review of the organic content coming from these accounts.
  • Events:  25 events hosted.

The social media giant announced last month that it had removed 32 accounts that it said “were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior” on Facebook and Instagram. Gleicher said in a call with reporters the company had 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.

Facebook also launched a bounty program earlier this year that will pay between $500 and $40,000 for catching data leaks.

Photo: Getty iStock

 

 

 

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