Published: Thu, August 02, 2018
World News | By Sandy Lane

Facebook Finds More Accounts Attempting To Influence 2018 Elections

Facebook Finds More Accounts Attempting To Influence 2018 Elections

The company says it does not know who is behind the efforts, but said there are may be connections to Russian Federation.

The company previously said 126 million Americans may have seen Russian-backed political content on Facebook over a two-year period, and that 16 million may have been exposed to Russian information on the Instagram photo-sharing app.

In one case, a known IRA account was a co-admin on one of the pages for seven minutes before the account was removed from Facebook.

According to Facebook, the pages ran roughly 150 ads on the social media sites at the cost of approximately $11,000. They were paid for in American and Canadian dollars. For example, they used virtual private networks (VPNs) and internet phone services, and paid third parties to run ads on their behalf.

Facebook said it doesn't know who was behind the efforts, but they have connections to Russian Federation.

The pages had also organized 30 other events over the same time period.

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Facebook said since the company has increased efforts to prevent abuse, the creators of fake accounts have begun to employ trickier, more secretive efforts. The company has been working with the FBI to investigate the activity.

The world's largest social network is already in the hot seat with lawmakers over its role in the 2016 United States presidential election.

The Atlantic Council said the Resisters page, which advocated left-wing feminist causes, raised alarms because it was pushing for confrontation at multiple protests, including against supporters of the right-wing "Unite the Right 2" group, raising the potential for violence.

The company said more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the fake pages, with the earliest having been created in March 2017.

Among the deleted pages was one called "Resisters", which had created a Facebook Event - "No Unite the Right 2-DC" - a counterdemonstration to Unite the Right 2-DC, which had been called by the ultraright for August 12 in Washington. Roughly 4,700 people had registered interest in attending, though company officials couldn't say whether any of the events had actually taken place. The other was the #AbolishICE social media campaign aimed at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. That echoed efforts in 2016 to fan division around the Black Lives Matter movement.

While top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer applauded Facebook's action, he said the Trump administration itself "is not doing close to enough" to protect elections.

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"We're still in the very early stages of our investigation and don't have all the facts - including who may be behind this", Facebook said in a blog post.

The tech giant did say "some of the activity is consistent" with that of the Internet Research Agency - the Russian troll farm that managed many false Facebook accounts used to influence the 2016 vote. After being caught flat-footed by the IRA's efforts ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Facebook has expanded its security team, hired counterterrorism experts and recruited workers with government security clearances.

The company has hired thousands of new security staff, partnered with research organizations, and improved its artificial intelligence tools for detecting disinformation. A pending bill proposed by Warner, called the Honest Ads Act, would hold technology companies that publish political ads to the same disclosure responsibilities as broadcasters.

The company also did not directly suggest the pages were aimed at influencing the US midterm elections in November.

"We think it's inevitable that we will find evidence and we will find other actors, whether these are from Russian Federation, from other countries, or domestic actors that are looking to continue to try and abuse the platform", Gleicher told the Times.

The company was careful to hedge its announcement; it didn't link the effort directly to Russian Federation or to the midterms, now less than a hundred days away.

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