Facebook uncovers new global misinformation operations

The social network said it had removed 652 pages, groups, and accounts linked to Russia

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

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

RELATED: Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

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

Facebook’s action in late July against 32 accounts possibly linked to Russia generally involved U.S. political activity ahead of the midterm elections in November. By contrast, the latest group of apparently fake accounts appeared more intent on influencing U.S. foreign policy and regional politics in the Middle East.

Shortly after Facebook’s announcement, Twitter revealed that it had also suspended 284 accounts for “co-ordinated manipulation,” many of them apparently originating from Iran. A day earlier, Microsoft also reported a new Russian effort to impersonate conservative U.S. websites , potentially as part of an espionage campaign.

The social network 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. But it said it has informed the U.S. and U.K. governments as well as the U.S. Treasury and State departments because of ongoing sanctions against Iran.

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

“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 this activity, noted that it “does not appear to have been specifically designed to influence the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, as it extends well beyond U.S. audiences and U.S. politics.”

Facebook said its latest action on Tuesday morning resulted from four investigations — three involving Iran, one involving Russia.

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 website registrations, IP addresses and administrator accounts, Facebook said. The first accounts were created in 2013 and posted political content about the Middle East, the U.K., and the U.S., although the focus on the West increased starting last year, Facebook said.

“The Iranians are now following the Kremlin’s playbook,” said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee. On Sept. 5, leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter are scheduled to testify before the intelligence committee about their efforts to combat political disinformation on their social media networks.

FireEye called the Liberty Front Press group an influence operation apparently aimed at promoting Iranian political interests “including anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes” and support for the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal.

President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from that agreement earlier this year.

While that group did not appear to be attempting to influence the U.S. midterms, FireEye said its analysis “does not preclude such attempts being made.” Several social media personas it found related to the group masqueraded as liberal U.S. activists who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders. One persona also used the Twitter handle “@berniecratss” and listed its location as the United States even though the phone number associated with it began with Iran’s country code, +98.

RELATED: Facebook finds ‘sophisticated’ efforts to disrupt U.S. elections

The group’s activity included “significant anti-Trump messaging,” but FireEye said in a detailed report “the activity extends well beyond U.S. audiences and U.S. politics.”

The second group also had multiple accounts and 15,000 followers. The group 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 U.K. and U.S.

In all the Iranian-linked groups spent some $12,000 in advertising and hosted 28 different events.

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

“We’re working closely with U.S. law enforcement on this investigation,” Facebook said in a blog post .

In late July, Facebook also removed 32 apparently fake accounts on Facebook and Instagram that collectively had nearly 300,000 followers, including thousands that expressed interest in events they promoted.

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Lost a ring? This White Rock man will find it for you

Chris Turner founded The Ring Finders, an international directory of metal detector hobbyists

PHOTOS: Family Day celebrated at Historic Stewart Farm

Youngsters participate in some old fashioned fun

Clayton’s little neighbourhood libraries are open for business

’Take a book, leave a book’ initiative aims to bring Clayton residents closer together

Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, resigns amid SNC-Lavalin furor

Butts categorically denies the accusation that he or anyone else in the PMO improperly pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould

VIDEO: Winterhawks end Giants winning streak at seven

Playing on home ice, Vancouver’s G-Men fell 5-3 during a Family Day game against Portland.

Aaron Pritchett and George Canyon to headline Gone Country concert in Cloverdale this summer

‘Early bird tickets on sale via Twins Cancer Fundraising website

Poverty coalition has high hopes for B.C. poverty reduction strategy

Funding allocation expected to be released with 2019 budget

‘How did we get here?’: B.C. mom of transplant recipient worries about measles outbreaks

Addison, 7, cannot get a live vaccine because she has a heart transplant

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh calls for public inquiry over SNC-Lavalin questions

Vancouver member of Parliament Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet last week

Canadian airlines waiting for guidance from Ottawa over X gender option

Major U.S. airlines said they will change their process so passengers can identify themselves along non-binary lines

UPDATE: Plane flips over at Pitt Meadows airport

The pilot and lone occupant exited the aircraft on his own and uninjured.

Moose Hide campaign takes message to Canadian schools

Campaign launches new K-12 education platform

Most Read