The social network explained all in a lengthy series of posts on Tuesday, apparently keen to show it is taking the issue seriously after being criticized in the past for failing to react quickly enough to reports of Russian attempts to influence the 2016 US election.
The first of the eight Pages, 17 profiles and seven Instagram accounts were identified two weeks ago and the last of them were removed on Tuesday after co-ordination with law enforcers, Congress and others, explained Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher.
They had created 9500 pieces of organic content on Facebook and one on Instagram, were followed by over 290,000 accounts, and created 30 events that thousands of followers were interested in attending.
The most popular Pages were “Aztlan Warriors,” “Black Elevation, “Mindful Being,” and “Resisters” — highlighting the range of diverse interests the bad actors were looking to promote.
Those behind the activity were more careful to disguise their identity than previous Russian actors, using VPNs and internet phone services and paying for ads via third-parties. However, there were still signs linking them to the infamous Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) blamed for much of the pre-2016 election activity, Facebook claimed
“Given these bad actors are now working harder to obscure their identities, we need to find every small mistake they make. It’s why we’re following up on thousands of leads, including information from law enforcement and lessons we learned from last year’s IRA investigation,” said Gelicher.
“The IRA engaged with many legitimate Pages, so these leads sometimes turn up nothing. However, one of these leads did turn up something. One of the IRA accounts we disabled in 2017 shared a Facebook Event hosted by the “Resisters” Page. This Page also previously had an IRA account as one of its admins for only seven minutes. These discoveries helped us uncover the other inauthentic accounts we disabled today.”
Facebook is not attributing the activity to Moscow yet as it claimed its technical forensics are “insufficient,” but has handed over to US law enforcement. The incident comes just three months before the US mid-term elections.