Facebook has identified coordinated attempts operating on its social media platform to influence the U.S. midterm elections this November, The New York Times reported today. Facebook wrote on its blog that 32 pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram have been removed.
According to the Times, Facebook told lawmakers that it hasn't been able to conclusively tie the accounts to Russia, but that it still believes the country may be involved. The Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) was indeed involved in election interference during the 2016 presidential campaign. Facebook wrote that the newly discovered "bad actors" have used VPNs, internet phone services and third parties to run ads and create content, making them harder to track.
"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's blog reads.
The coordination has been occuring on eight Facebook pages, 17 profiles and seven Instagram accounts, which Facebook wrote it first found two weeks ago. The pages were deeply rooted in divisive topics, like the #AbolishICE campaign to shut down the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, a page called Resisters that had interacted with an IRA account and a page planning another Unite the Right white supremacist rally like the one that occurred in Charlottesville, Va. in August 2017.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, wrote that more than 290,000 accounts followed one or more of the pages. Those accounts made more than 9,500 posts on Facebook and one on Instagram. Additionally, the creators paid approximately $11,000 to run 150 ads on Facebook and Instagram.
Facebook was bamboozled by the IRA's coordinated interference before, during and after the 2016 election and is now working with the FBI in an attempt to keep its platform from causing issues during the 2018 midterm elections.
Last week, President Donald J. Trump tweeted that he is "very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election [sic]," which was surprising as he had previously suggested Russia had not interfered in the election.
"We think it’s inevitable that we will find evidence and we will find other actors, whether these are from Russia, from other countries, or domestic actors that are looking to continue to try and abuse the platform,” Gleicher told the Times.
Earlier this month, a Microsoft security executive told the Aspen Security Forum that Microsoft had blocked attempts to hack into the campaigns of three congressional candidates running for seats in the 2018 midterm elections.
You can read Facebook's series of blog posts about the investigation here.