Facebook and Twitter announced late Tuesday that hundreds of accounts tied to an influence operation have been removed as part of the companies’ heightened efforts to root out bad actors from the social media networks.
In a blog post, Facebook announced it had removed 652 pages, groups and accounts for what the company calls “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
The accounts were linked to a group known as “Liberty Front Press,” an effort that originated in Iran. Working with cybersecurity firm FireEye, Facebook discovered the group was primarily posting political content focused on the Middle East, as well as the U.K., U.S., and Latin America. Beginning in 2017, its focus on the U.K. and U.S. increased.
“The activity we have uncovered highlights that multiple actors continue to engage in and experiment with online, social media-driven influence operations as a means of shaping political discourse,” an assessment from FireEye read. “The activity we have uncovered highlights that multiple actors continue to engage in and experiment with online, social media-driven influence operations as a means of shaping political discourse.”
During the course of the investigation into Liberty Front Press, Facebook also removed a number of accounts tied to Russian intelligence. The removal is tied to content that has been identified for covertly spreading content tied to political discourse surrounding Syria and Ukraine.
Facebook has found no evidence that the two campaigns are connected.
Shortly after Facebook’s blog post was made public, Twitter announced that it had suspended 284 accounts for “coordinated manipulation.”
As with prior investigations, we are committed to engaging with other companies and relevant law enforcement entities. Our goal is to assist investigations into these activities and where possible, we will provide the public with transparency and context on our efforts.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) August 22, 2018
Facebook took similar action last month when it removed a number of accounts looking to provoke discord around divisive issues in U.S. politics.
Eliminating this behavior has been top of mind for both the social media companies and government officials since it was uncovered that Russia leveraged the platforms in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. The Senate Intelligence Committee will be holding a hearing Sept. 5, in which committee members will address efforts by Facebook, Twitter, and Google to curb influence campaigns aimed at disrupting the midterm elections.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s top Democrat, said Facebook’s actions show influence campaigns are not solely a Russian tactic.
“I’ve been saying for months that there’s no way the problem of social media manipulation is limited to a single troll farm in St. Petersburg, and that fact is now beyond a doubt,” Warner said. “We also learned today that the Iranians are now following the Kremlin’s playbook from 2016. While I’m encouraged to see Facebook taking steps to rid their platforms of these bad actors, there’s clearly more work to be done.”