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Facebook bans fake Russian accounts

October 22, 2019

Facebook has banned dozens of accounts linked to a Russian agency that is accused of being behind a mass misinformation campaign. Many of the accounts claimed to be based in Florida and to represent activist groups.

Fake Russian social media accounts
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo

Facebook has announced new security measures aimed at preventing its platform from being used to interfere in elections, including the suspension of a network of Russia-based accounts containing "divisive" political messages aimed at US voters.

The social media giant faced heavy criticism over failing to prevent fake accounts based in Russia from spreading misinformation during the 2016 US presidential election campaign.

The company said Monday that the banned networks "showed links" to Russia's Internet Research Agency, which operated a "troll farm" Washington says was instrumental in interfering with the 2016 vote.

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Facebook has admitted that the Internet Research Agency was able to exploit the platform to reach 126 million Americans during the election.

In 2018, the US Department Justice indicted the Internet Research Agency for "creating false personas" to operate social media pages "designed to attract US audiences," addressing divisive US political and social issues and "falsely claiming to be controlled by US activists."

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50 accounts targeting voters

A report released Monday by the social media analytics firm Graphika said the takedown involved 50 accounts on the picture sharing platform Instagram, half of which claimed to be based in swing states, especially Florida.

Graphika said the accounts were all linked to the same operation and claimed to represent activist groups from both sides of the political spectrum with a high potential for polarization.

These included "black activist groups, advocates speaking out against police violence, police supporters, LGBT+ groups, Christian conservatives, Muslims, environmentalists, gun-rights activists, southern Confederates and supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders and President Donald Trump."

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"The operators went to great lengths to hide their origins," said the Graphika report, adding that most of the posts were memes without text.

The campaign also appears to have been created recently, Graphika said, with most of the Instagram accounts in the operation having a low number of followers and a combined total of 75,000 posts.

Amid warnings from US officials of election interference in 2020, other steps announced by Facebook on Monday include labeling posts from state-controlled media, and adding hacking protection and monitoring services for accounts of elected officials and candidates. 

wmr/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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