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Facebook Spikes Suspected Russian Accounts Tied to 2018 Election Meddling

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Facebook has taken down fake accounts after it uncovered "sophisticated" attempts at political influence ahead of the U.S. midterm elections. The pages and accounts were connected to protests planned in Washington next week, Facebook said. Facebook said 30 events were created by these Facebook accounts.

"I am glad that Facebook is taking some steps to pinpoint and address this activity".

The bogus material appeared on the social media platforms between March 2017 and May 2018, Facebook said, and combined the fake actors had racked up 290,000 accounts that followed them. The Event - "No Unite the Right 2 - DC" - was scheduled to protest an August "Unite the Right" event in Washington.

Facebook stopped short of saying the effort was aimed at influencing the USA midterm elections in November, although the timing of the suspicious activity would be consistent with such an attempt. Facebook has sent the information to both USA law enforcement and Congress. Gleicher said the fake accounts managed to get real ones involved, which contributed to the interest in the event.

Some of the most-followed pages that were shut down included "Resisters" and "Aztlan Warriors".

The names Facebook said were given to some of the deleted pages paralleled those of 2016 groups allegedly established by Russian agents to manipulate American voters with particular ethnic, cultural, or political identities.

It said the "bad actor" accounts on the world's biggest social network and its photo-sharing site Instagram could not be tied to Russian actors, who USA officials say used the platform to spread disinformation ahead of the 2016 presidential election in the United States. Facebook couldn't determine whether the recently discovered campaign was operated by Russian Federation but said some of the activity was consistent with previous campaigns by Russia's Internet Research Agency.

In February, the U.S. Justice Department indicted the Internet Research Agency and 13 Russian nationals for allegedly using a widespread social media campaign to foster divisions among Americans and interfere in the 2016 election.

Company officials refused to link the latest suspicious accounts and pages to Russian actors, but said the most recent activity involved some of the same tactics employed by the Internet Research Agency, Russian-backed troll farm named in a federal indictment into political interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

Facebook said that the accounts helped boost the #AbolishICE hashtag, a new viral campaign of the hard left aimed at building a movement to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The statement said the company removed eight Facebook pages, 17 Facebook profiles, and seven Instagram accounts that violated the company's ban on "coordinated inauthentic behavior". In its blog post, Facebook warned that it faces "determined, well-funded adversaries who will never give up" and who are "constantly changing tactics".

Facebook said it had briefed United States law enforcement agencies, Congress and other tech companies about its findings.

"We know that Russians and other bad actors are going to continue to try to abuse our platform - before the midterms, probably during the midterms, after the midterms, and around other events and elections", Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said earlier this month.

"We've always known security's an arms race", said Sandberg.