Fake accounts detected and purged

The recently detected political influence campaign sought to amplify divisive social issues.
The recently detected political influence campaign sought to amplify divisive social issues.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • Facebook said on Tuesday that it had identified a political influence campaign that was potentially built to disrupt the US midterm elections, with the company detecting and removing 32 pages and fake accounts that had engaged in activity around divisive social issues. Here is what is known.

WHICH ACCOUNTS WERE REMOVED?

Facebook said the recently purged accounts - eight Facebook pages, 17 Facebook profiles and seven Instagram accounts - were created between March last year and May this year, and were discovered two weeks ago. More than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the suspect pages, which had names like Aztlan Warriors, Black Elevation, Mindful Being and Resisters, Facebook said.

WHO WAS BEHIND THE ACCOUNTS?

The company did not definitively link the campaign to Russia. But Facebook officials said some of the tools and techniques used by the accounts were similar to those used by the Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin-linked group at the centre of an indictment this year alleging interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

WHAT ACTIVITIES WERE THE ACCOUNTS INVOLVED IN?

Like the 2016 Russian interference campaign, the recently detected campaign sought to amplify divisive social issues, including through organising real-world events. Facebook said it had discovered coordinated activity around issues like a sequel to last year's deadly "Unite the Right" white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Activity was also detected around #AbolishICE, a left-wing campaign on social media that seeks to end the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

HOW MUCH MONEY WAS INVOLVED?

Between April last year and June this year, the accounts ran 150 ads costing US$11,000 (S$14,970). They were paid for in American and Canadian dollars.

HOW DID FACEBOOK DETECT THE ACCOUNTS?

The company is using artificial intelligence and teams of human reviewers to detect automated accounts and suspicious election-related activity. It has also tried to make it harder for Russian-style influence campaigns to use covert Facebook ads to sway public opinion, by requiring political advertisers in the US to register with a domestic mailing address and by making all political ads visible in a public database.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2018, with the headline 'Fake accounts detected and purged'. Print Edition | Subscribe