Facebook Finds More Accounts Attempting To Influence 2018 Elections

Lamar Ellis
August 1, 2018

Facebook announced Tuesday it has identified a coordinated political influence campaign, with dozens of inauthentic accounts and pages that are believed to be engaging in political activity around divisive social issues ahead of November's midterm elections.

But Facebook did say those behind the campaign had been "more careful to cover their tracks, adding: "We've found evidence of some connections between these accounts and IRA accounts we disabled previous year (.) but there are differences too".

Facebook added that those who set up the fake accounts went to "much greater lengths to obscure their true identities than the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) has in the past".

Facebook said over 290,000 users followed at least one of the pages, the earliest of which was created in March 2017.

The most followed Facebook pages were "Aztlan Warriors, ' 'Black Elevation, ' 'Mindful Being, ' and 'Resisters", the network said. And the fact that 32 pages and accounts can be so problematic is a reminder of just hard it is for social media companies to identify, much less eradicate, bad behavior across their sprawling platforms.

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

Facebook shared that it identified the first of eight Pages and 17 profiles on Facebook along with seven Instagram accounts that violate the company's ban on coordinated inauthentic behavior.

Facebook said the pages also paid in total around $11,000 to run 150 ads ― purchasing them through a third party in an attempt to hide their identity.

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

Evidence Facebook has is not strong enough to publicly attribute the pages to the IRA, and "it's possible that a separate actor could be copying their techniques", the company's chief security officer Alex Stamos said.

The company was careful to hedge its announcement; it didn't link the effort directly to Russian Federation or to the midterms, now less than a hundred days away.

Two U.S. intelligence officials told Reuters there was not sufficient evidence to conclude that Russia was behind the Facebook campaign, but one noted that "the similarities, aims and methodology relative to the 2016 Russian campaign are quite striking". Inauthentic admins of the "Resisters" Page connected with admins from five legitimate Pages to co-host the event.

In the post released Tuesday, the company said it was working with USA law enforcement agencies as well as other tech companies to "better understand the threats we face". Facebook disclosed its findings after the New York Times reported on them earlier Tuesday.

However, Facebook's top security officials said the campaign involved similar "tools, techniques and procedures" employed by the Russian Internet Research Agency during the 2016 campaign. They were paid for in American and Canadian dollars.

California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said more work needs to be done before the midterm elections.

On a conference call with reporters in July, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, declined to directly answer questions about whether the company had detected additional Russian information campaigns. More than 2,500 Facebook users indicated that they would attend. Facebook previously said roughly 470 fake accounts had spent $100,000 on more than 3,500 ads surrounding the 2016 election. Social media users must be skeptical of the content they encounter on social media, Brookie says, without veering into cynicism about every rally they see advertised.

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