With added pressure on social media platforms like Facebook to root out concerted foreign efforts to influence democratic elections, Facebook announced on Tuesday that it had removed 32 pages and accounts that were involved in a coordinated effort to influence the results of the 2018 American mid-term elections. This effort, deemed “inauthentic behavior” in a statement released by Facebook, included purchased advertising, organic content, and even the organizing of events and protests with thousands of participants.
“We’re still in the very early stages of our investigation and don’t have all the facts — including who may be behind this. But we are sharing what we know today given the connection between these bad actors and protests that are planned in Washington next week. We will update this post with more details when we have them, or if the facts we have change.” Facebook said.
According to their statement, the actors behind this concerted effort took great lengths to ensure they couldn’t be easily identified. Previously, Facebook said, it was much easier to identify efforts originating from the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) during their investigation into the 2016 presidential election. Suggesting that this effort is either driven by a different source or that Russia has simply adjusted their procedures to insulate themselves from further detection.
The accounts were spread across Facebook, and it’s subsidiary social media platform Instagram. The oldest of these accounts was just over a year old, with the newest created in May of 2018, and in total, they had amassed some 290,000 followers. The Facebook pages that drew the largest portions of the sum were “Aztlan Warriors,” “Black Elevation,” “Mindful Being,” and “Resisters.” Most of the other pages had very few or even zero followers but were still tied to the broader effort.
These pages purchased $11,000 worth of paid advertising on user’s timelines, produced 9,500 posts, and had created 30 events dating back to May 2017. The largest of these events had 4,700 users say they were interested in attending with 1,400 saying that they would attend. Facebook acknowledges that some of the methods employed in this recent effort were similar to those used by previously identified Russian efforts, but there were enough differences to make the hesitant to lay this effort at Russia’s feet. The data, however, has been turned over to federal law enforcement as well as private investigative firms to determine the source of the effort — and the funding.
A protest organized for August 10-12 in Washington D.C. that was created by these bad actors even managed to secure partnerships with legitimate political organizations within the United States: an event called “No Unite the Right 2 – DC,” set to protest the “Unite the Right” event in Washington D.C. connected with administrators from at least five legitimate Left-oriented pages to garner increased support for their cause. The event has been disabled by Facebook, and the five sites involved are being contacted by their staff.
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. We believe this could be partly due to changes we’ve made over the last year to make this kind of abuse much harder. But security is not something that’s ever done. We face determined, well-funded adversaries who will never give up and are constantly changing tactics. It’s an arms race and we need to constantly improve too.”
Image courtesy of Facebook