Facebook has announced the detection and removal of another cluster of accounts, backed by Russian-based operators, which had been attempting to run political and issues ads in the United States.
As explained by Facebook:
“Today, we removed 49 Facebook accounts, 69 Pages and 85 Instagram accounts for engaging in foreign interference – which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign actor – on Facebook, Instagram and other internet platforms. This network was in the early stages of building an audience, and was operated by local nationals – some wittingly and some unwittingly – in Ghana and Nigeria on behalf of individuals in Russia. It targeted primarily the United States.”
Facebook says that it was aided in its detection efforts by CNN, Twitter and Clemson University. Facebook’s Head of Security Policy Nathan Gleicher explained on Twitter how the various groups played a role in the process:
“Many of these teams discovered pieces of this operation independently, and all of us came together to take it down early in its life cycle and as the Russian-IRA-linked actors behind it were still building their audience. We know threat actors will keep trying to run these kinds of operations, but this whole-of-society work is key to stopping them when they do.”
That’s a positive sign for the growing detection and enforcement efforts that have been put in place to halt political interference – as is this note within Facebook’s explanation:
“Less than $5 was spent on ads focused on people in the US, none of which were political or issue ads. Our systems repeatedly rejected attempts by this network to run issue or political ads in the US because the people behind it were not authorized to run political ads in the US.”
That’s a good endorsement of Facebook’s updated process for political and issues ads – which, incidentally, Facebook is rolling out in 32 more regions this month. Many questions have been raised about the viability of Facebook’s efforts to limit the purchase of political ads, but this serves as a good reminder of the worth of such restrictions. Some have suggested that the process can still be subverted, but if Facebook can reduce the use of such by ill-intentioned foreign actors, that’ll be a positive step.
Facebook says that this latest group of accounts, while it was unable to run issues ads, did post content about black history, black excellence and fashion, celebrity gossip, news and events related to famous Americans, and LGBTQ issues. So there was a level of political angling to their content, it just wasn’t overtly political yet, as they were building audience.
With the US Election campaign gaining momentum, you can expect political activist groups to be testing Facebook’s systems, and searching for weaknesses to exploit in order to sway voters. As such, it’s good to see Facebook’s systems working as intended here – and co-ordination between different parties leading to a result.