Facebook Shuts Down Accounts Linked to Russian Disinformation Campaign

A sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. in April 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

(CN) — Facebook and Twitter on Tuesday announced a takedown of pages and accounts linked to a Russian disinformation operation.

Facebook says that last month it removed a small network of 13 accounts and two pages linked to individuals who were associated with past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA).

Russian operatives connected to the Internet Research Agency in 2016 ran widespread disinformation campaigns on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms in order to fuel division among U.S. citizens before the election. 

Facebook said on Tuesday that the IRA-linked campaign it removed last month was “largely unsuccessful on its platform,” but, while posing as a global news source, it had “tricked unwitting freelance journalists into writing stories on its behalf.”

The Russian operatives used phony accounts to direct people to a fake news site called Peace Data, according to the social media giant. 

Peace Data, one of the websites used by the IRA, said its goal was “to shed light on the global issues and raise awareness about corruption, environmental crisis, abuse of power, armed conflicts, activism, and human rights.” 

The agents targeted progressive and left-wing audiences, according to Graphika, which is a network analysis firm based in New York.

Facebook gave Graphika the network information before the takedown for independent research purposes. 

The firm says the Russian agents used avatars generated by artificial intelligence that had a presence across social media platforms in order to make them more believable. 

These AI avatars shared Peace Data’s 500 articles that were written in English, the firm says, and were aimed to steer left-leaning Democrats away from the Biden-Harris ticket. 

“Regardless of the low-level impact in this case, governments around the world must stop these practices. They’re antidemocratic. Attempts to manipulate our service to undermine democracy — by both foreign and domestic actors — will be met with strict enforcement of our policies,” Twitter said in a statement.

Twitter says it has suspended five accounts connected to the PeaceData website.

The operation focused primarily on the U.S., UK, Algeria and Egypt, in addition to other English-speaking countries and countries in the Middle East and North Africa, according to Facebook.

“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,” the company said. 

Facebook’s “Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior” report for August says that the company’s internal investigation was sparked by a tip from the Federal Bureau of Investigation about this network’s off-platform activity.

“As part of our work to find, study and remove influence operations from Facebook, we’ve seen them target multiple technology platforms and seek to use traditional media to amplify their narratives,” the company said. “We’ve seen a number of campaigns, including the two we removed in August, create Pages purporting to be news entities to appear more credible.”

Facebook says it shared the findings with law enforcement, policymakers and industry partners. In addition, writers who have been contacted by the network will be notified. 

“We expect to see more attempts like this from threat actors globally,” the company said and promised to “remain vigilant and work with other technology companies, law enforcement, and independent researchers to find and remove influence operations.”

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