Facebook reported and blocked attempts to influence campaign ahead of midterms US elections

Facebook removed 32 Facebook and Instagram accounts and pages that were involved in a coordinated operation aimed at influencing the midterm US elections

Facebook has removed 32 Facebook and Instagram accounts and pages that were involved in a coordinated operation aimed at influencing the forthcoming midterm US elections.

Facebook is shutting down content and accounts “engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior”

At the time there is no evidence that confirms the involvement of Russia, but intelligence experts suspect that Russian APT groups were behind the operation.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced its response to the recently disclosed abuses.

“One of my top priorities for 2018 is to prevent misuse of Facebook,” Zuckerberg said on his own Facebook page.

“We build services to bring people closer together and I want to ensure we’re doing everything we can to prevent anyone from misusing them to drive us apart.”

According to Facebook, “some of the activity is consistent” with Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) associated with the Internet Research Agency that is known as the Russian troll farm that was behind the misinformation campaign aimed at the 2016 Presidential election.

“But we don’t believe the evidence is strong enough at this time to make public attribution to the IRA,” Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamps explained to the reporters.

Facebook revealed that some 290,000 users followed at least one of the blocked pages.

“Resisters” enlisted support from real followers for an August protest in Washington against the far-right “Unite the Right” group.

According to Facebook, fake pages that were created more than a year ago, in some cases the pages were used to promote real-world events, two of them have taken place.

Just after the announcement, the US Government remarked it will not tolerate any interference from foreign states.

“The president has made it clear that his administration will not tolerate foreign interference into our electoral process from any nation-stateor other malicious actors,” deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters.

The investigation is still ongoing, but the social media giant decided to disclose early findings to shut down the orchestrated misinformation campaign.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy at Facebook, explained that the threat actors used VPNs and internet phone services to protect their anonymity.

  • “In total, more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of these Pages, the earliest of which was created in March 2017. The latest was created in May 2018.
  • The most followed Facebook Pages were “Aztlan Warriors,” “Black Elevation,” “Mindful Being,” and “Resisters.” The remaining Pages had between zero and ten followers, and the Instagram accounts had zero followers.
  • There were more than 9,500 organic posts created by these accounts on Facebook and one piece of content on Instagram.
  • They ran about 150 ads for approximately $11,000 on Facebook and Instagram, paid for in US and Canadian dollars. The first ad was created in April 2017, and the last was created in June 2018.
  • The Pages created about 30 events since May 2017. About half had fewer than 100 accounts interested in attending. The largest had approximately 4,700 accounts interested in attending, and 1,400 users said that they would attend.” said Gleicher.

Facebook announced it would start notifying users that were following the blocked account and users who said would attend events created by one of the suspended accounts and pages

Facebook reported its findings to US law enforcement agencies, Congress, and other tech companies.

“Today’s disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation, and I am glad that Facebook is taking some steps to pinpoint and address this activity,” declared the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat Mark Warner.

Pierluigi Paganini

August 2, 2018

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