Facebook Removes Russian and Iranian Fake Accounts Ahead of 2020

Facebook has taken down more Russian and Iranian fake accounts and Pages as part of its efforts to trawl for coordinated misinformation operations ahead of the 2020 US elections.

The three Iranian and one Russian operation targeted users in various regions of the world. The respective accounts were removed not for the content they displayed but because they coordinated activity with each other and misrepresented themselves to users, according to the social network’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher.

Of the four campaigns, the most interesting is the Russian one. Facebook removed 50 Instagram accounts and one account on Facebook which it claimed may have been run by the notorious Internet Research Agency (IRA).

The IRA was indicted as part of Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election.

Ironically, the attempts of those behind the accounts to conceal their identity and location made it difficult for them to build a following among genuine users.

“The people behind this activity used fake accounts — some of which were previously detected and disabled by our automated systems as inauthentic and engaged in spam. These accounts followed, liked and occasionally commented on others’ posts to increase engagement on their own content,” explained Gleicher.

“They primarily reused content shared across internet services by others, including screenshots of social media posts by news organizations and public figures. A small portion of these accounts also repurposed and modified old memes originally posted by the IRA. The people behind this operation often posted on both sides of political issues including topics like US elections, environmental issues, racial tensions, LGBTQ issues, political candidates, confederate ideas, conservatism and liberalism.”

In total, around 246,000 accounts followed one or more of the fake Instagram accounts, most (60%) of which were located in the US.

Elsewhere, Facebook removed 93 Facebook accounts, 17 Pages and four Instagram accounts originating in Iran, targeting the US and French-speaking audiences in North Africa.

A separate take-down saw the removal of 38 Facebook accounts, 6 Pages, 4 Groups and 10 Instagram accounts originating in Iran and focusing on South American countries including Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Mexico.

Finally, the firm removed four Facebook accounts, three Pages and seven Instagram accounts that originated in Iran and focused mainly on the US, spreading content on political issues.

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