Facebook identifies political influence campaign ahead of US midterms

Credit: Frederic Legrand/ShutterstockAccording to the Times, Facebook told lawmakers that it hasn't been able to conclusively tie the accounts to Russian Federation, but that it still believes the country may be involved.

Facebook said it has uncovered "sophisticated" efforts, possibly linked to Russian Federation, to influence US politics on its platforms.

"We know that Russians and other bad actors are going to continue to try to abuse our platform - before the midterms, probably during the midterms, after the midterms, and around other events and elections", Gleicher said. It has been unable to tie the accounts to Russian Federation, whose Internet Research Agency was at the centre of an indictment earlier this year for interfering in the 2016 election, but company officials told Capitol Hill that Russian Federation was possibly involved, according to two of the officials.

The intelligence panel is planning a hearing in early September with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey, and an executive from Google. Specifically, a page called "Resisters", which interacted with one Internet Research Agency account in 2017, created an event called "No Unite the Right 2 - DC" to serve as a counterprotest to the white nationalist gathering, scheduled to take place in Washington in August.

In one case, a known IRA account was a co-admin on one of the pages for seven minutes before the account was removed from Facebook. They also organized about 30 events, only two of which were slated for the future.

In some instances, the company said, the inauthentic accounts directly coordinated with unwitting legitimate Facebook users who were admins of other pages.

Facebook said it all started two weeks ago when it identified the first of eight pages and 17 profiles.

Samples of the inauthentic activity. They paid third parties to spend approximately $11,000 (in United States and Canadian dollars) for around 150 ads on Facebook and Instagram. They paid third parties to run ads on their behalf, the company said.

"It's clear that whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities than the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) has in the past", the statement said.

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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.

"It's still very early", she said, adding: "We're always concerned with inauthentic content".

You can read the full blog post here.

For instance, in one case a group calling itself "Aztlan Warriors" posted what appeared to be an anti-colonialist message, featuring famous Native American warriors such as Crazy Horse and Geronimo.

After being caught flat-footed by the Internet Research Agency's efforts to use social media to sow division ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Facebook is trying to avoid a repeat disaster in 2018. This includes both Facebook pages and Instagram accounts.

The network is the most extensive effort to interfere in American politics that Facebook has found and made public ahead of November's midterm elections.

The company told lawmakers during a series of briefings on Capitol Hill this week that it detected the influence campaign on Facebook and Instagram during its investigations into election interferences.

The social network founded by Mark Zuckerberg found itself at the center of controversy during the 2016 presidential election for the use of its platform to disseminate hoaxes and fake news.

  • Sonia Alvarado