Facebook allegedly uncovers political influence campaign ahead of US midterm elections

San Francisco (AFP) – Facebook said on Tuesday July 31st, that it shut down 32 fake pages and accounts involved in an apparent “coordinated” effort to stoke hot-button issues ahead of November midterm US elections, but could not identify the source, despite hints Russia was involved.

It said the “bad actor” accounts on the world’s biggest social network and its photo-sharing site Instagram could not be tied directly to Russian actors, who American officials say used the platform to spread disinformation ahead of the 2016 US presidential election.

The US intelligence community has concluded that Russia sought to sway the vote in Donald Trump’s favor, and Facebook was a primary tool in that effort, using targeted ads to escalate political tensions and push divisive online content.

Trump, now president, has repeatedly downplayed Kremlin efforts to interfere in US democracy.

Two weeks ago, he caused an international firestorm when he stood alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin and cast doubt on assertions that Russia tried to sabotage the vote.

With the 2018 mid-terms barely three months away, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced his company’s crackdown.

“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.”

Facebook did say “some of the activity is consistent” with that of the Saint Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency — the Russian troll farm that managed many false Facebook accounts used to influence the 2016 vote.

“We have found evidence of connections between these accounts and previously identified IRA accounts, 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 said during a conference call with reporters.

“We can’t say for sure if this is the IRA with improved capabilities or a different organization.”

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, is heading a sprawling investigation into possible collusion with Russia by Trump’s campaign to tip the vote toward the real estate tycoon.

Mueller has indicted the Russian group and 12 people, mainly Russian nationals, connected to the organization.

Facebook said it is shutting down 32 pages and accounts “engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior,” even though it may never be known for certain what group or country was behind them.

The tech giant’s investigation is at an early stage, but was revealed now because one of the pages being covertly operated was orchestrating a counter-protest to a white nationalism rally in Washington.

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