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Facebook bans Russian accounts from group that interfered in 2016 election

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers his speech during the VivaTech trade fair on May 24, 2018 in Paris, France. (Eliot Blondet/Abaca Press/TNS)
September 01, 2020

Facebook announced on Monday that it banned accounts and pages connected to a Russian “troll farm” accused of interfering in the 2016 election.

Facebook said it removed 13 accounts and two pages linked to individuals connected to the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) due to “inauthentic behavior” after receiving a tip from the FBI.

“In total, our team has found and removed about a dozen deceptive campaigns connected to individuals associated with the IRA,” Facebook’s statement said. “Over the last three years, we have detected these efforts earlier and earlier in their operation, often stopping them before they were able to build their audience.”

In 2018, the Department of Justice had indicted the IRA and several connected individuals and companies for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

The indictment alleged that the individuals had conspired with one another beginning in 2014 for the purpose of “impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”

Facebook called the IRA’s August campaign “largely unsuccessful.”

The individuals used fake accounts to run pages, post in groups, and entice people to navigate to their website, which posed as a Romanian-based news outlet that recruited journalists to write stories. The individuals then attempted to purchase political advertising in the U.S.

The campaign was considered in the early stages of growing its audience and had “nearly no engagement on Facebook” before its removal.

Ben Nimmo, investigations head at social media analytics company Graphika who was hired by Facebook to investigate the IRA’s influence campaign, told CNN Business on Tuesday that the IRA’s campaign “looks like an early-stage attempt to target left-wing audiences on a range of issues.”

“The [US] election wasn’t the only focus,” Nimmo said, “but it looks like the operation wanted to divide Democratic voters, the same way the IRA tried in 2016.”

Also on Tuesday, Twitter said it suspended five user accounts belonging to “Russian state actors” due to “platform manipulation.” The accounts were associated with the PeaceData website, which is the website associated with the IRA’s latest influence campaign.

“The Tweets from the Russian-linked accounts were low quality and spammy, and most Tweets from these accounts received few, if any, Likes or Retweets. The accounts achieved little impact on Twitter and were identified and removed quickly,” Twitter added.