Facebook Dismantles Russian Influence Operation After FBI Tip

Facebook has dismantled a Russian influence operation after it received a tip off from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The campaign was linked to a well known Russian news farm, which is known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA). This is an organisation close to the Russian government and it has been previously accused of interference in the 2016 US election.

And the shutdown of its campaign comes just months away from November’s Presidential election, between US President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

IRA campaign

According to Facebook, the campaign used fake personas including realistic-looking computer-generated photos of people, a network of Facebook accounts and pages, and a website that was set up to look and operate like a left-wing news outlet.

This left-wing news website was PeaceData, that carries articles about US foreign policy, President Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and the QAnon conspiracy theory.

“The first network we took down was linked to the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA), and so was the 100th we took down in August,” said Facebook. “In total, our team has found and removed about a dozen deceptive campaigns connected to individuals associated with the IRA.”

Twitter also suspended five accounts from the same network.

“We removed a small network of 13 Facebook accounts and two Pages linked to individuals associated with past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA),” said Facebook.

“This activity focused primarily on the US, UK, Algeria and Egypt, in addition to other English-speaking countries and countries in the Middle East and North Africa,” it said. “We began this investigation based on information about this network’s off-platform activity from the FBI. Our internal investigation revealed the full scope of this network on Facebook.”

Facebook also took down 55 Facebook accounts, 42 Pages and 36 Instagram accounts linked to US-based strategic communications firm CLS Strategies, which focused primarily on Venezuela and also on Mexico and Bolivia.

And Facebook also revealed it had removed 453 Facebook accounts, 103 Pages, 78 Groups and 107 Instagram accounts operated from Pakistan, and focused on Pakistan and India.

“We are making progress rooting out this abuse, but as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing effort,” said Facebook. “We’re committed to continually improving to stay ahead. That means building better technology, hiring more people and working closely with law enforcement, security experts and other companies.”

Russian meddling

Both Twitter and Facebook have faced intense pressure from European and US lawmakers over the use of internet platforms by foreign countries to attempt to influence local election results.

Facebook in April 2018 for example deleted over a hundred accounts linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA).

It is worth noting that the IRA had been accused by former US Special Counsel Robert Mueller of trying to influence the 2016 US presidential elections.

And at least one security expert warned that these types of misinformation campaigns are very difficult to identify.

“Fake Twitter profiles designed to influence users can be very difficult to spot amongst the millions of accounts on the platform, but once they start to gain traction, they can spread like wildfire,” said Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET.

“It is really important to do your research before fuelling the fire, especially if you have lots of followers on Twitter,” said Moore. “The more active and popular you are on social media, the more responsibility you have over what might just feel like a quick like or share. Therefore, we must make sure that information we share on social platforms is genuine and correct.”

“Although the danger of influence campaigns may seem negligible, there is a real chance that in the lead up to the US election, criminal gangs from all over the world will attempt cyber-attacks like this to make significant historical changes,” Moore concluded. “Such attacks often start with small steps like fake Twitter or Facebook accounts to gain lower level traction before the larger scale attacks begin.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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