In Depth

Facebook uncovers online campaign to sway US midterm elections

Company deletes fake accounts amid fresh fears of Russian meddling

Facebook has deleted 32 pages and accounts from across its brands after detecting “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” apparently designed to sway the US midterm elections in November.

The company, which encompasses both Facebook and photo sharing app Instagram, said the accounts were spreading misinformation in a manner similar to the methods previously used by the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA). The Kremlin-linked organisation was accused of interfering in the 2016 US presidential election. 

However, the Facebook network said in a statement that the groups behind the latest fake accounts went to “much greater lengths to obscure their true identities” than the IRA has done in the past.

The social network revealed last October that Russian-backed content was accessed by 126 million Americans before the 2016 presidential elections, The Guardian reports. 

Some of those accounts had Russian IP addresses, a unique computer code linked to internet activity. But the recently discovered groups used virtual private networks (VPNs) to mask their location, the newspaper says. 

Among the deleted accounts were “Aztlan Warriors”, “Black Elevation”, “Mindful Being” and “Resisters”, said Facebook’s cybersecurity policy chief Nathaniel Gleicher. 

According to The Daily Telegraph, some of the pages attempted to set up a march in Washington DC “to protest the far-right”, and “thousands of real Facebook users” registered their interest.

In total, more than 290,000 people followed at least one of the 32 purged pages and accounts, the paper says. The pages promoted themselves by spending around $11,000 (£8,400) on 150 adverts.

In order to identify other potentially bogus accounts in the run-up to the midterm elections, Facebook is planning to hire more people and invest in better technology, and will work more closely with law enforcement officials. 

Facebook’s discovery comes a week after Trump tweeted that he was “very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election”.

“Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!” he wrote. 

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