Cracking down on accounts which were stirring political debate in the U.S. on issues that crossed party lines, the social media giant Facebook announced Tuesday that it had found evidence of “coordinated inauthentic” political behavior, raising questions about new efforts – possibly by Russia – to tamper with the 2018 election climate in the U.S.
“We’re sharing what we know today because of the connection between these bad actors and an event planned in Washington next week,” said Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook in a call with reporters, who added that the investigation was still in an early stage.
“This kind of behavior is not allowed on Facebook because we don’t want organizations or individuals creating networks of accounts that mislead people about who they are or what they’re doing,” Sandberg added.
The rallies that Facebook wanted to head off were set for August 10 and August 12 not far from the White House – targeted against conservatives, and aligned more with “Resist” groups who oppose President Donald Trump’s administration.
Examples of other graphics sent out by these fake accounts – one of which was labeled “Resisters” – was a photo of President Trump, saying he only needs to tweet two words, “I RESIGN,” as the examples of social media messages and memes released by Facebook showed that like in 2016 – the social media postings touched on hot button issues in the American political landscape which would inflame both political parties.
As for who was responsible for these accounts and the fake rallies, Facebook officials said that just wasn’t clear, noting that the groups behind these postings had clearly learned some lessons from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
“It’s clear that whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities than the Russian-based, Internet Research Agency, IRA, did in the run up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” Sandberg said.
“As we’ve developed this investigation, we’ve been working closely with law enforcement and have briefed lawmakers on what we’ve found,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, the head of cybersecurity for Facebook.
“Our team has determined these actors have gone to greater lengths than those we’ve seen before to conceal their identity and origin,” he added.
Facebook officials said more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the deactivated pages, which were created between March 2017 and May 2018.
“This is information warfare,” declared Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) during a Tuesday evening speech on the Senate floor, as he displayed some of the content identified by Facebook.
“This is not a pro-Trump message or a pro-Democrat message,” Rubio said. “This is an outrage message.”
“This is not a relic of 2016,” Rubio added.
“We know that Russia is coming back in 2018, 2020, and beyond,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). “Americans in Washington and in Silicon Valley have work to do.”
The revelation from Facebook came as the Senate Intelligence Committee was ready to hold a hearing on Wednesday with a group of social media experts.
“The goal of these operations is to sow discord, distrust, and division,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who will chair the hearing.
“The Russians want a weak America,” Burr added.