Facebook Deletes Fake Accounts Ahead Of US Elections

Dozens of accounts were involved in ‘coordinated inauthentic behaviour’, but Facebook stops short of saying Russia’s to blame

Facebook said it has removed dozens of accounts that were being used to spread misinformation and propaganda-oriented events, including a protest organised by a false account that attracted interest from thousands of users.

The social media company stopped short of naming Russia as the culprit, but said all of the 32 accounts across Facebook and Instagram were discovered by following leads connected with a previous Russia-connected campaign to influence the 2016 US presidential elections.

The current pages are apparently aimed at influencing the US’ mid-term elections in November.

Facebook said the more recent accounts were identified two weeks ago and included eight Facebook pages, 17 Facebook profiles and seven Instagram accounts.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's F8 developer conference, 2018. Credit: FacebookPropaganda

More than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the pages, which were created between March 2017 and May 2018, with most of those users following one of four pages and the rest having from zero to 10 followers.

The Facebook accounts published more than 9,500 posts, while the Instagram account posted one piece of content.

They ran about 150 ads for approximately $11,000 (£8,300) on Facebook and Instagram, Facebook said.

Facebook is under growing pressure to eliminate elements from its network that serve the clandestine political purposes of foreign powers, but said in a Tuesday blog post that doing so was an “arms race” in which it faced “determined, well-funded adversaries who will never give up and are constantly changing tactics”.

The company said it could not definitively state that Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) was responsible for the more recent pages because the newer accounts used much more stringent methods to conceal their true sources, such as making use of VPNs to conceal IP addresses.

While the earlier Russian pages occasionally made use of Russian IP addresses, Facebook hasn’t seen those in the more recent pages. The new measures could be a response to Facebook’s own increased security, the company said.

However, Facebook said the newer pages were all discovered via links to the older campaign, such as the fact that one of the more recent pages had a Russian account as one of its administrators for a period of seven minutes.

‘Coordinated inauthentic behaviour’

One of the most followed newer pages had created a protest event set to take place in Washington, DC later this month, an even that was supported by several legitimate pages.

More than 2,000 users registered interest in the protest, and more than 600 said they would attend.

Facebook said it was contacting those users to explain that the event was part of a campaign of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”.

Facebook has also been put under pressure for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which users’ personal data was used for campaign purposes in the US’ 2016 presidential election.

While those problems have to date failed to significantly affect Facebook’s share price, the company lost about 20 percent of its market value last week following a disappointing earnings report.