Russia is trying to meddle in the US midterms, experts have said
Facebook took down 30 accounts as well as 85 accounts on Instagram, which is also owns after warnings of sustained efforts to affect the result of the US midterms, which take place today.
The FBI, Homeland Security and the Attorney General released a joint statement urging voters to be vigilant as “foreign actors” were trying to “sow discord” with fake news and propaganda.
Experts also believe agents with connections to the Vladimir Putin’s regime are actively involved in spreading divisive comment.
A statement issued yesterday by Nathan Gleicher, Facebook’s head of Cybersecurity Policy, said: “Our very early-stage investigation has so far identified around 30 Facebook accounts and 85 Instagram accounts that may be engaged in coordinated inauthentic behaviour.
Given that we are only one day away from important elections in the US, we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today
“We immediately blocked these accounts and are now investigating them in more detail.
“Almost all the Facebook Pages associated with these accounts appear to be in the French or Russian languages, while the Instagram accounts seem to have mostly been in English — some were focused on celebrities, others political debate.
“Typically, we would be further along with our analysis before announcing anything publicly.
“But given that we are only one day away from important elections in the US, we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today.”
Facebook has deleted a number of pages
A joint statement released by Department for Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, director of national intelligence Dan Coats and FBI director Christopher Wray said: “Americans should be aware that foreign actors – and Russia in particular – continue to try to influence public sentiment and voter perceptions through actions intended to sow discord.
“They can do this by spreading false information about political processes and candidates, lying about their own interference activities, disseminating propaganda on social media, and through other tactics.”
Researchers studying the spread of disinformation on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other platforms say new, more subtle tactics have allowed most of the so-called information operations campaigns to survive purges by the big social media companies and avoid government scrutiny.
Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, said: “The Russians are definitely not sitting this one out.
Vladimir Putin, pictured with US President Donald Trump, denies claims of Russian meddling
“They have adapted over time to increased US focus on influence operations.
“They are baiting Americans to drive more polarising and vitriolic content.
“Any given solution needs to focus on basing our politics on facts, first and foremost, and to focus on what holds our country closer together.”
US intelligence and law enforcement agencies say Russia used disinformation and other tactics to support President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The Russian government has rejected all allegations of election interference and Mr Trump has also sought to downplay the suggestions, although there is no evidence so far of any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.
One clear sign of the continued Russian commitment to disrupting American political life came out in charges unsealed last month against a Russian woman who serves as an accountant at a St Petersburg company known as the Internet Research Agency.
After spending $12 million on a project to influence the US election through social media in 2016, the company budgeted $12.2 million for last year and then proposed spending $10 million in just the first half of 2018, court filings showed.
Priscilla Moriuchi, a former National Security Agency official who is now a threat analyst at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future threat manager, said: “We’ve done a lot research on fake news and people are getting better at figuring out what it is, so it’s become less effective as a tactic.”
Instead, Russian accounts have been amplifying stories and internet “memes” that initially came from the US far left or far right, she said.
Renee DiResta, director of research at security company New Knowledge, said her company had compiled a list of suspected Russian accounts onFacebook and Twitter which were similar to those suspended after the 2016 campaign.
Some of them seized on the Brett Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court to rally conservatives, while others used memes from the leftist Occupy Democrats.
Some operators of the accounts in the collection established themselves as far-right pundits and had accounts on Gab, the social network favoured by the far right.
A report published by the Washington DC-based think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) last week suggested more than 80 percent of cybersecurity experts thought Russia was a bigger threat than China due to their various influence operations