Facebook removes fake accounts targeting the US ahead of elections


James Martin/CNET

Facebook pulled down two networks of fake accounts targeting the US ahead of the presidential election, the social network said Tuesday, adding that the campaigns were small and caught early.

Facebook’s latest account takedowns come after the FBI said last week that Russia and Iran had obtained voter registration data to meddle in the upcoming election. The social network pulled down the accounts because the people behind them tried to mislead others about their identity and purpose.

Facebook, which worked with the FBI, said it removed a single fake account created in October 2020 that attempted to spread unsubstantiated claims that Iranians hacked into US voting systems. The claims were also spread primarily through email. The social network also took down 11 Facebook accounts, six pages and 11 Instagram accounts that were largely inactive and focused on Israel. These accounts posted about Saudi Arabia’s activities in the Middle East and an alleged massacre at Eurovision, Facebook said. The company said it found some ties to people associated with the Iranian government. The Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is part of the embassy of Pakistan, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook also removed another network of two Facebook Pages and 22 Instagram accounts, some of which tried to pose as accounts of Americans. Facebook linked the activity to people from Mexico and Venezuela, and the accounts posted about current events and hot-button topics such as religion, race relations and the environment. Some of the accounts reused memes posted by the Russian Internet Research Agency, the notorious troll farm that meddled in the 2016 US presidential election.

Nathaniel Gleicher, who oversees Facebook’s cybersecurity policy, said the company is in a different place compared with the 2016 US elections. Disinformation campaigns are being caught earlier and before the election. Bad actors are shifting to other tactics, he said, such as trying to get writers to write for fake media organizations.

“It’s important that we all stay vigilant, but also see these campaigns for what they are, small and largely ineffective, rather than for what the threat actors behind them want to be seen as, ubiquitous and impactful,” he said.

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