Thu, Aug 23, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Facebook uncovers new misinformation operations with ties to Russia and Iran

AP

Facebook has identified and banned hundreds of accounts, groups and pages engaged in misleading political behavior, a far larger discovery than a “sophisticated” effort it reported three weeks ago with great fanfare.

The social network on Tuesday said that it had removed 652 pages, groups and accounts linked to Russia and, unexpectedly, Iran, for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that included the sharing of political material.

Facebook has significantly stepped up policing of its platform since last year, when it acknowledged that Russian agents successfully ran political influence operations on its platform that were aimed at swaying the 2016 US presidential election.

Other social media networks have done likewise and continue to turn up fresh evidence of political disinformation campaigns.

Facebook’s action late last month against 32 accounts possibly linked to Russia generally involved US political activity ahead of US midterm elections in November.

By contrast, the latest group of apparently fake accounts appeared more intent on influencing US foreign policy and regional politics in the Middle East.

Shortly after Facebook’s announcement, Twitter revealed that it had also suspended 284 accounts for “coordinated manipulation,” many of them apparently originating from Iran.

A day earlier, Microsoft also reported a new Russian effort to impersonate conservative US Web sites, potentially as part of an espionage campaign.

Facebook said it had not concluded its review of the material and declined to say how or why the state-backed actors were behaving the way they did.

“There’s a lot we don’t know yet,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on a hastily called conference call with reporters.

“You’re going to see people try to abuse the services in every way possible ... including now nation-states,” he said.

He described the deception campaigns as “sophisticated and well-funded efforts that aren’t going to stop.”

FireEye, a cybersecurity firm that alerted Facebook to some of the activity, said that it “does not appear to have been specifically designed to influence the 2018 US midterm elections, as it extends well beyond US audiences and US politics.”

Facebook said its latest action resulted from four investigations.

The first focused on a group called “Liberty Front Press” that set up multiple accounts on Facebook and Instagram that were followed by 155,000 other accounts. The group was linked to Iranian state media based on Web site registrations, IP addresses and administrator accounts, Facebook said.

The second group also had multiple accounts and 15,000 followers. It was linked to Liberty Front Press and attempted to hack people’s accounts to spread malware.

Facebook said it disrupted those attempts.

A third group also operated out of Iran had as many as 813,000 followers and also shared political content about the Middle East, the UK and the US.

A fourth group that attempted to influence politics in Syria and Ukraine was connected to sources that Facebook said the US had linked to Russian military intelligence.

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