Facebook on Tuesday told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that it had detected a “coordinated influence campaign” on its platform ahead of November’s midterm elections, according to The New York Times.
The campaign focuses on divisive issues like the Unite the Right rally and #AbolishICE.
Three individuals with knowledge of the matter told the Times dozens of inauthentic accounts and pages are believed to be involved. While Russia has not been explicitly blamed for this latest campaign, the tactics echo those utilized by the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, a troll factory at the center of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of several Russian figures and companies this past February, who were charged with conspiracy to illegally influence the 2016 election.
As it did previously, this latest campaign appears to play both sides of the political aisle, honing in on issues that are bound to create controversy on both the left and right.
Facebook officials later confirmed the Times report in a blog post.
Sharing an update on our work to remove bad actors on Facebookhttps://t.co/yAn3zF21j4
— Facebook (@facebook) July 31, 2018
“Today we removed 32 Pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram because they were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior. This kind of behavior is not allowed on Facebook because we don’t want people or organizations creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing,” company spokespersons wrote.
“We’re still in the very early stages of our investigation and don’t have all the facts — including who may be behind this,” they added. “But we are sharing what we know today given the connection between these bad actors and protests that are planned in Washington next week.
The company said it would release more information if further details became available.
The company revealed the fake accounts had gone to greater lengths to “obscure their true identities” than the Internet Research Agency had in the past. Officials suggested the pages had been forced to do so, “partly due to changes we’ve made over the last year to make this kind of abuse much harder.”
“We face determined, well-funded adversaries who will never give up and are constantly changing tactics,” they wrote, calling the campaign “an arms race” that had forced them to improve security. “It’s why we’re investing heavily in more people and better technology to prevent bad actors misusing Facebook — as well as working much more closely with law enforcement and other tech companies to better understand the threats we face.
According to the Times, Facebook is working with the FBI to determine the source of the fake accounts.
The announcement comes as Facebook attempts to limit the chances of a 2016 repeat, hiring counterterrorism experts and buffing up security. The company has also shifted the way it approves all political ads, forcing accounts to verify their locations to ensure they’re based in the United States.
As ThinkProgress previously reported, the approval program requires page administrators to submit a government-issued ID along with a mailing address, to which Facebook can mail a unique access code for their specific account.
The program also requires ads to carry a written disclosure identifying the person or organization behind the account, similar to the “paid for” disclosures currently required on all television or radio ads.
U.S. intelligence officials believe Russian agents purchased at least 3,400 Facebook ads that reached 150 million people during the 2016 election. The ads, which were meant to sow division over subjects such as race, police brutality, and immigration, targeted Facebook users, employing inflammatory language and false information to stir up controversy and generate shares.
“They sought to harness Americans’ very real frustrations and anger over sensitive political matters to influence our thinking, voting and behavior,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted in May.
Facebook also came under fire for allowing companies like Cambridge Analytica to improperly access user data, which experts believe may have also been used to manipulate voters.
Facebook’s brand and stock have suffered tremendously as a result of those missteps, despite its efforts to reinforce security. On Thursday, the company posted the “largest one-day loss in market value by any company in U.S. stock market history,” according to CNBC, toppling from $630 billion on Wednesday to $510 billion at the closing bell on Thursday, a loss of $119 billion. Facebook had reported weaker-than-expected second quarter revenue one day earlier, as well as a decline in global daily active users.