Facebook takes down foreign posts targeting US elections

FACEBOOK has admitted taking down four foreign interference operations originating from Iran and Russia, apparently linked to the US 2020 presidential elections.

The Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) is suspected of masterminding the operation, which “had the hallmarks of a well-resourced operation that took consistent operational security steps to conceal (its) identity and location”, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said in a blogpost.

The Guardian and CNN reported that the campaign used 50 Instagram accounts and one Facebook account with 246,000 followers to publish nearly 75,000 posts, according to Graphika, a social network analysis company.

The accounts adopted identities including pro-Donald Trump, anti-police violence, pro-Bernie Sanders, LGBTQ, feminist, pro-police and pro-Confederate. Most were not explicitly related to electoral politics, and focused on general political commentary.

Using false personas apparently advocating for both sides of a political debate — including accounts designed to appear as if they were run by black activists protesting against police violence — recalls the tactics used by the IRA in a 2016 election interference campaign.

That campaign may have been reusing US content to conceal its roots, Graphika says, but linguistic tics suggest a foreign origin. Use of the 1980s television show Dukes of Hazzard was another clue to IRA origins.

While focusing on polarising political issues, the fake accounts “supported” Sanders and “opposed” Senator Kamala Harris. There were also attacks on former vice-president Joe Biden from both sides of the spectrum.

Three foreign influence operations disclosed by Facebook were from Iran. One targeted the US and north Africa with content related to Israel, Palestine and Yemen. A second focused on Latin American countries.

A third network of accounts from Iran targeted the US with content from a page called BLMNews, mimicking a news outlet connected to the Black Lives Matter movement.