Facebook Shuts Down Accounts Trying To Influence Midterm US Elections

Clay Curtis
August 2, 2018

"We're still in the very early stages of our investigation and don't have all the facts - including who may be behind this", the company said in an announcement. There was no specific evidence that political candidates were targeted, but one account followed an IRA-associated account for a brief period.

Both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate intelligence committee were less reserved about placing the blame for this campaign on the Russian government.

President Donald Trump has offered mixed messages on Russian interference, at times even calling it a "hoax".

While Facebook said that "some of the activity is consistent" with the IRA, it hasn't linked the campaign definitively to Russian Federation due to this same reason of obscurity.

The size of this latest, and now shutdown, campaign is smaller than the 2016 effort - possibly because whoever was behind it was testing the waters - and Facebook noted that the perpetrators has hidden their identities by using VPNs and paying third parties to run ads.

The first of the pages was created in March 2017.

Company officials refused to link the latest suspicious accounts and pages to Russian actors, but said the most recent activity involved some of the same tactics employed by the Internet Research Agency, Russian-backed troll farm named in a federal indictment into political interference in the 2016 USA presidential election.

The New York Times reported the company was working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the investigation.

Tuesday's actions show the threat of Russian election meddling has not abated, and serves as a wake-up call for the kind of activity Americans might see from various actors in this November's midterms and future elections, some officials said.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller later indicted the IRA for its "strategic goal to sow discord in the USA political system".

This most recent political influence campaign consisted of pages with names like "Aztlan Warriors", "Black Elevation", "Mindful Being" and "Resisters". The pages repeated progressive talking points and set up real-world events aimed at rallying genuine left-wing activists.

"We've made it harder for inauthentic actors to operate on Facebook", said Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

However, the company said the efforts were similar to Russia's efforts during the 2016 Presidential Election campaign. "The Russians want a weak America", said Sen. The "No Unite the Right 2 - DC" event was meant to be a counter-protest to a rally planned by right-wing groups as a follow-up to last year's deadly "Unite the Right" protests in Charlottesville.

For example, after the Resisters account created a Facebook event for a protest on 10 to 12 August called "No Unite the Right 2", five other page owners offered to co-host the demonstration and posted details about transportation and locations.

They added that the perpetrators had been "more careful to cover their tracks" than in 2016, in part because of steps Facebook has taken to prevent abuse over the past year.

Facebook has briefed United States law enforcement agencies, Congress and other tech companies about its findings.

US intelligence and law enforcement officials have been warning for months that Russia's efforts to undermine USA democracy remain active and pose a threat to this year's elections.

According to Facebook, the pages ran roughly 150 ads on the social media sites at the cost of approximately $11,000.

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