Facebook announced on Tuesday that it has identified a political campaign on its platform made of fake accounts. The social media giant said that the campaign was targeting the midterm elections. Over 32 pages and fake accounts were linked to this campaign. Facebook confirmed that these accounts had been removed from its platform. Although the company didn’t link any of these actions to Russia, it did confirm that the tools and techniques used are very similar to the ones used by the Internet Research Agency. The Kremlin-linked group has been indicted for its interference in the 2016 elections.
Facebook’s head of cyber-security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said that at the moment there’s no technical evidence to suggest that the removed accounts were connected to the Kremlin. However, he made it clear that there were definitive connections between these accounts and the Internet Research Agency. These recent revelations were also conveyed to lawmakers in a private briefing at the Capitol. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg also conveyed the same message through his page.
The accounts underscore a behind the scenes campaign that’s already underway to influence the midterms. Just recently, Democratic lawmaker Claire McCaskill of Missouri said that her office was targeted by Russian hackers last year. McCaskill is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the upcoming midterms. It would make perfect sense for any election interference campaign to target vulnerable opponents. McCaskill said that the attempted hack wasn’t successful.
Facebook also confirmed that it’s working with the FBI and other intelligence agencies to fully document this campaign and prevent its advancement. This recent step is a sharp contrast from last year during the presidential election when the social media company was accused of doing very little to prevent election interference on its platform. Facebook didn’t even admit that Russia had used its platform to infiltrate the presidential campaign until months later.
The company came under scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers after it emerged that the personal accounts of over 85 million people had been targeted in the election meddling campaigns. A statement released by Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman on board the Air Force One, didn’t directly address the Facebook’s findings but even then, he said that the Trump administration won’t tolerate any form of election interference.
The Facebook discovery also came at a time when president Trump is facing a special counsel probe into whether Russian agents colluded with members of his campaigns to interfere with the 2016 election. Trump has repeatedly called the probe a witch hunt and insists that there was no collusion.
Just a few hours ago, the President called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Mueller probe calling it a “stain to America.” It’s not clear whether the 32 banned accounts are the only ones linked with the Internet Research Agency. However, it’s clear that the Russians are not deterred and will do whatever they can to try and bolster the GOP in the coming midterms.