Facebook deletes hundreds of pages linked to Iran, Russia
Facebook on Tuesday announced it had identified new campaigns on its platform to influence users around the world, saying it had removed “652 Pages, groups and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
Russian and Iranian state groups spread misinformation in the United States, United Kingdom, Latin America and the Middle East, the company said in a statement. Facebook said it has found no link or coordination between the distinct campaigns.
Facebook also noted that it removed content linked to previously identified Russian military intelligence services.
On a call with reporters, top Facebook officials including CEO Mark Zuckerberg described the company’s ongoing efforts as an investigation focused on four different sets of accounts: the newly discovered Iranian Liberty Front Press accounts; links between Liberty Front Press and a separate set of pages whose origin is not clear; a third set of also anonymous pages targeting Middle Eastern issues; and the Russian military service accounts.
Facebook said that it found 74 pages, 70 accounts and three groups on Facebook associated with Liberty Front Press, in addition to 76 accounts on Instagram. It said that 155,000 accounts followed at least one of the pages, while 2,300 accounts joined at least one of these groups. Over 48,000 accounts followed at least one of these Instagram accounts and $6,000 was spent on advertising across the accounts between January 2015 and August 2018. The page hosted three events.
The second batch linked to Liberty Front Press consisted of 12 pages and 66 accounts on Facebook, as well as nine accounts on Instagram that were followed by over 16,000 accounts between the platforms.
The third set, focused on Middle East politics, was the largest. It had 168 pages and 140 accounts on Facebook, as well as 31 accounts on Instagram that had over 800,000 total followers between the platforms. This set also spent $6,000 and its pages held 25 events.
Facebook said that it is working with U.S. law enforcement as well as other companies to crack down on outside groups trying to manipulate its platform. It has also briefed the U.S. Treasury and State Department on the issue because of sanctions against Iran.
“While we’re making progress rooting out this abuse, as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing challenge because the people responsible are determined and well funded,” Facebook said in its statement about the accounts.
The social media company discovered one of the Iranian pages, Liberty Front Press, as a result of tip from the cybersecurity firm FireEye.
Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher and vice president of product management Guy Rosen touted the cooperation with FireEye as a necessary part of finding actors seeking to manipulate Facebook to influence other countries’ politics.
Zuckerberg stressed that it is important to “focus on building relationships” across companies and the cybersecurity industry.
“You need to be able to pool signals together to do this work effectively,” he said.
Twitter also announced on Tuesday that it had deleted 248 fake accounts of its own, “many” of which originated from Iran. Twitter noted that it worked with “industry peers” to find them.
Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the new accounts prove that social media influence efforts were never limited to just Russia.
“I’ve been saying for months that there’s no way the problem of social media manipulation is limited to a single troll farm in St. Petersburg, and that fact is now beyond a doubt,” he said. ”While I’m encouraged to see Facebook taking steps to rid their platforms of these bad actors, there’s clearly more work to be done.”
In his own statement on Tuesday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) echoed Facebook’s calls to cooperate with industry and the government on the matter.
“[T]he goal of these foreign social media campaigns is to sow discord, that Russia is not the only hostile foreign actor developing this capability, and that addressing this threat requires technology companies, law enforcement, Congress, and the Intelligence Community working together,” Burr said.
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is set to testify on foreign social influence campaigns before Burr and Warner’s committee on Sept. 5. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google Vice President Kent Walker are also slated to testify in the hearing.
In July, Facebook announced that it discovered a previous set of over 30 fake accounts, which it has not been able to tie to a country or actor.
The accounts worked with unwitting U.S. activists to carry out protests in the U.S. in some case.
It’s unclear to what degree the new accounts were successful in creating protests in the U.S. or attaching themselves to already planned events.
After the 2016 election, Facebook also announced a purge of fake accounts it linked to the Russian troll farm, The Internet Research Agency, that had tried to influence American politics and social discourse around the time of the election.
–Updated at 9:25 p.m.