Facebook added more fuel to the election-meddling fire Tuesday, revealing that it discovered a network of pages and profiles engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” related to planned protests in Washington DC. The news release was written with as many euphemisms as Facebook’s PR team could come up with, but the findings are still clear: Hidden groups are using Facebook’s platform to run political influence campaigns behind false identities in advance of the upcoming US midterm elections.
In a long series of blog posts, Facebook execs outlined how a network of posts and profiles have been working together to sow discord. The company stops short of attributing blame to one particular country or organization, but instead describes the pages, how they’ve been working, and what it did to find them.
“About two weeks ago we identified the first of eight Pages and 17 profiles on Facebook, as well as seven Instagram accounts, that violate our ban on coordinated inauthentic behavior,” the company said. “In total, more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of these Pages, the earliest of which was created in March 2017. The latest was created in May 2018. The most followed Facebook Pages were “Aztlan Warriors,” “Black Elevation,” “Mindful Being,” and “Resisters.” The remaining Pages had between zero and 10 followers, and the Instagram accounts had zero followers.”
Broadly speaking, the pages were sharing anti-Trump memes and coordinating with other, legitimate Facebook pages to organize events:
The “Resisters” Page also created a Facebook Event for a protest on August 10 to 12 and enlisted support from real people. The Event – “No Unite the Right 2 – DC” – was scheduled to protest an August “Unite the Right” event in Washington. Inauthentic admins of the “Resisters” Page connected with admins from five legitimate Pages to co-host the event. These legitimate Pages unwittingly helped build interest in “No Unite Right 2 – DC” and posted information about transportation, materials, and locations so people could get to the protests.
Facebook said that the individuals running the pages also took efforts to cover their tracks. “These bad actors have been more careful to cover their tracks, in part due to the actions we’ve taken to prevent abuse over the past year,” the company said. “For example they used VPNs and internet phone services, and paid third parties to run ads on their behalf.”