Facebook has identified a new coordinated political influence campaign to mislead users and organise rallies ahead of November’s US congressional elections, taking down dozens of fake accounts on its site, the company said on Tuesday.
A Russian propaganda arm tried to tamper in the 2016 US election by posting and buying ads on Facebook, according to the company and US intelligence agencies. Moscow has denied involvement.
The social media company said it had removed 32 pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram, part of an effort to combat foreign meddling in US elections, attempts that lawmakers have called dangerous for democracy.
The company said it was still in the early stages of its investigation and did not yet know who might be behind the influence campaign for 2018 elections that will determine whether or not the Republican Party keeps control of Congress.
“This kind of behaviour is not allowed on Facebook because we don’t want people or organisations creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing,” the company said in a blogpost.
Facebook has identified influence activity around at least two issues, including a counter-protest to a “Unite the Right II” rally that will be held next week in Washington.
The other was the #AbolishICE social media campaign aimed at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Facebook officials said one known account from Russia’s Internet Research Agency was a co-administrator of one of the fake pages for seven minutes. But the company did not believe that was enough evidence to attribute the campaign to the Russian government.
The company had previously said 126 million Americans might have seen Russian-backed political content on Facebook in a two-year period, and 16 million might have been exposed to Russian information on Instagram.
Facebook disclosed in September that Russians under fake names had used the social network to try to influence US voters in the months before and after the 2016 election, writing about divisive issues, setting up events and buying ads.
US intelligence agencies said Russian state operators ran the campaign combining fake social media posts and hacking into Democratic Party networks, eventually becoming an effort to help Republican candidate Donald Trump, who scored a surprise victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In recent months, Facebook has taken steps meant to reassure US and European lawmakers that further regulation is unnecessary.
Chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg said the company had 20,000 people working to police and protect the site.
On Tuesday, US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen commended Facebook for taking action.
“This is a very good news story because it’s showing that Facebook is taking this very seriously, so they should be commended for what they did today,” she told Fox News.
“It also shows that the threat is very real and Americans need to know that.
“Russians and other nation states are absolutely attempting to manipulate us,” Ms Nielsen said.