© 2018 New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — 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.
In a series of briefings on Capitol Hill this week and a public post Tuesday, the company told lawmakers that it had detected and removed 32 pages and accounts connected to the influence campaign on Facebook and Instagram as part of its investigations into election interference. It publicly said it had been unable to tie the accounts to Russia, whose Internet Research Agency was at the center of an indictment earlier this year for interfering in the 2016 election, but company officials told Capitol Hill that Russia was possibly involved, according to two officials briefed on the matter.
Facebook said the accounts — eight Facebook pages, 17 Facebook profiles, and seven Instagram accounts — were created between March 2017 and May 2018 and first discovered two weeks ago. Those numbers may sound small, but their influence is spreading: More than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the suspect pages, the company said.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said the activity bore some similarities to that of the Internet Research Agency, but the actors had better disguised their efforts. He said the company had yet to see any evidence connecting the accounts to Russian IP addresses. But there were also connections between some of the accounts and others tied to the notorious Russian troll farm that were taken down by Facebook already.
Like the Russian interference campaign in 2016, the recently detected campaign dealt with divisive social issues.
Facebook discovered coordinated activity around issues like a sequel to last year’s deadly “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. 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.
Coordinated activity was also detected around #AbolishICE, a left-wing campaign on social media that seeks to end the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, according to two people briefed on the findings.