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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Facebook removes Russian accounts that targeted left-leaning Americans

Facebook said Tuesday it has removed a network of fake accounts trying to interfere in U.S. politics and associated with the Russian Internet Research Agency, the same group that used social media to foment political discord during the 2016 election.

The social network announced Tuesday it took down 13 accounts and two pages originating in Russia after receiving a tip from the FBI. One of those pages had 14,000 followers and spent about $480 on Facebook ads.

Facebook said those accounts also posed as a Romania-based news organization and recruited freelance journalists to write stories.

Facebook has removed more than 100 misinformation campaigns around the globe since 2017 for breaking its rules against coordinated inauthentic behavior. Though the company has touted improved enforcement of its policies, due in part to better detection technology, they remain a problem with the 2020 U.S. election two months away.

The posts Facebook most recently removed touched on a broad range of topics in the U.S., including ongoing racial justice demonstrations, as well as the Biden-Harris campaign and President Donald Trump. It appeared to be building a left-leaning audience when Facebook took it down.

"This network was in the early stages of building its audience, primarily on the left of the political spectrum, and saw nearly no engagement on Facebook before we removed it," Facebook wrote in a report.

Those accounts also targeted countries in the Middle East and North Africa with international topics like the coronavirus and tensions between Israel and Palestine.

Twitter said separately Tuesday that it removed five accounts that were also detected by the FBI and tied to Russian state actors.

The Internet Research Agency was behind a coordinated effort to meddle in the 2016 election to the benefit of President Donald Trump. That campaign, which came to light after the election, ratcheted up the heat on social media firms for failing to catch and intercept foreign interference.

Facebook also removed 55 accounts, 42 pages and 36 Instagram accounts linked to a U.S.-based communications firm called CLS Strategies that misrepresented their identities and targeted political messages at audiences in Venezuela, Mexico and Bolivia.

Those accounts attracted a much broader following, including 509,000 accounts that followed one or more of the pages and 43,000 people who followed one or more of the Instagram accounts. They also spent $3.6 million on Facebook ads.

Another 453 accounts, 103 pages, 78 groups and 107 Instagram accounts originating in Pakistan that focused on audiences within the country and neighboring India.

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