Facebook Has Identified Ongoing Political Influence CampaignWASHINGTON — Facebook announced on Tuesday that it has identified a coordinated political influence campaign, with dozens of inauthentic accounts and pages that are believed to be engaging in political activity ahead of November’s midterm elections, according to three people briefed on the matter.
In a series of briefings on Capitol Hill this week, the company told lawmakers that it detected the influence campaign on Facebook and Instagram as part of its investigations into election interference. It has been unable to tie the accounts to Russia, whose Internet Research Agency was at the center of an indictment earlier this year for interfering in the 2016 election, but company officials told Capitol Hill that Russia was possibly involved, according to two of the officials.
“We’re still in the very early stages of our investigation and don’t have all the facts — including who may be behind this,” the company said in a statement. “But we are sharing what we know today given the connection between these bad actors and protests that are planned in Washington next week.”
In its statement, Facebook said that it first discovered the accounts — eight Facebook pages, 17 Facebook profiles, and seven Instagram accounts — two weeks ago.
The company has been working with the F.B.I. to investigate the activity.
Like the Russian interference campaign in 2016, the recently detected campaign dealt with divisive social issues. Facebook discovered coordinated activity around issues like a sequel to last year’s deadly “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Specifically, a page called “Resisters,” which interacted with one Internet Research Agency account in 2017, created an event called “No Unite the Right 2 — DC” to serve as a counterprotest to the white nationalist gathering, scheduled to take place in Washington in August. Facebook said it disabled the event.
Coordinated activity was also detected around #AbolishICE, a left-wing campaign on social media that seeks to end the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, according to two people briefed on the findings.
That echoed efforts in 2016 to fan division around the Black Lives Matter movement.
After being caught flat-footed by the Internet Research Agency’s efforts to use social media to sow division ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Facebook is trying to avoid a repeat disaster in 2018. The company has expanded its security team, hiring counterterrorism experts and recruiting workers with government security clearances.
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 United States to register with a domestic mailing address and by making all political ads visible in a public database.
On a conference call with reporters earlier this month, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, declined to directly answer multiple questions about whether the company had detected additional Russian information campaigns.
“We know that Russians and other bad actors are going to continue to try to abuse our platform — before the midterms, probably during the midterms, after the midterms, and around other events and elections,” Mr. Gleicher said. “We are continually looking for that type of activity, and as and when we find things, which we think is inevitable, we’ll notify law enforcement, and where we can, the public.”
American intelligence and law enforcement officials have been warning for months that Russia’s efforts to undermine American democracy remain active and pose a threat to this year’s elections. If in fact Russian, the activity would provide vivid evidence that the kind of cyber operations used around the 2016 campaign were still in use.
“We think it’s inevitable that we will find evidence, and we will find other actors, whether these are from Russia, from other countries, or domestic actors that are looking to continue to try and abuse the platform,” Mr. Gleicher said.