Facebook takes down Roger Stone-affiliated accounts, pages

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Facebook said Wednesday that it removed a network of more than 100 pages and accounts associated with former Trump adviser Roger Stone after determining that they engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” focused on audiences in the U.S. 

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said in a blog post that the network used fake accounts and pages to deceive the platform’s users on issues related to local politics in Florida, Stone and hacked materials released by WikiLeaks ahead of the 2016 presidential election, among other things. 

Stone, a former Republican operative, was sentenced to 40 months in prison in February after being convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing a proceeding. His charges stemmed from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

The network linked to Stone and his associates consisted of 54 Facebook accounts, 54 Facebook pages and four accounts on Instagram, the photo-sharing app owned by Facebook. Several of the pages were also linked to the Proud Boys, a far-right group banned from Facebook in 2018. 

The network analysis firm Graphika also released a report concluding that Stone’s personal accounts were part of the network, whose main purpose was to “amplify” other pages and Stone’s work. The report said activity among the accounts and pages suggested they engaged in coordinated harassment and incitement in some cases.

Stone’s personal Facebook and Instagram pages are no longer active.

Facebook said that the network was most active between 2015 and 2017 and that it had been largely dormant in the following years. The pages had cumulatively garnered about 260,000 followers on Facebook and about 61,500 on Instagram. The network spent more than $300,000 on advertising. 

A sample of the content shared by the accounts included posts about Stone, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and FBI investigations. 

The company noted that its discovery of the network came after it began looking into attempts by the Proud Boys group to return to Facebook. Officials at Facebook found the “full scope” of the inauthentic activity after the public disclosure of search warrants pertaining to Mueller’s investigation following a joint petition filed by a number of news organizations, the company said. 

“The reasons for  this extraordinary act of  censorship  which Facebook and Instagram give is entirely fabricated, totally lacking in any proof and part of a larger effort to censor supporters of the President, Republicans and conservatives on social media platforms,” Stone said in a statement to The Hill. “The claim that I have utilized or controlled unauthorized or fake accounts on any platform is categorically and provably false.”

Stone also denied that his social media accounts had any connection to the Proud Boys. The longtime ally of Trump vowed to bring legal action against the “social media platforms,” alleging that the claims in Facebook’s most recent report were defamatory. 

“I am being censored by Facebook and Twitter because my social media postings expose the truth,” Stone, who was suspended from Twitter in 2017, said. 

The development coincided with Facebook’s announcement that it had removed three other separate networks that violated its policy against foreign interference and coordinated inauthentic behavior. The networks of fake accounts outside the U.S. originated in Canada, Ecuador, Brazil and Ukraine.

Stone is due to report to prison later this month. On Monday, he asked a court to delay his prison sentence, citing several coronavirus cases reported in the Georgia prison facility where he is set to serve his term. 

Tags Facebook Fake News Hillary Clinton Instagram misinformation campaigns Mueller report Robert Mueller Roger Stone Roger Stone Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections Social media

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