Facebook suspended on Monday, October 21st several Instagram accounts operated from Russia that aimed to manipulate Americans with divisive political messages ahead of the US presidential race in 2020, as the operators posed as citizens in the United States, reported Reuters.
Facebook has also suspended three networks operated from Iran. The company said that the Russian network is linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), which is believed to have been used by Moscow to meddle in the 2016 US elections.
"We see this operation targeting largely US public debate and engaging in the sort of political issues that are challenging and sometimes divisive in the US right now," said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cyber security policy.
"But I can’t say exactly what their goal was,” he added.
Facebook has announced new measures to curb foreign interference and misinformation ahead of next year’s presidential election. The new measures include labelling state-controlled media outlets and adding more protection for candidates who may be vulnerable to hacking.
US security officials said that next year’s election could be targeted by Russia, Iran, or other countries to change the vote.
Both Moscow and Tehran have repeatedly denied the allegations.
Gleicher said the IRA-linked network used 50 Instagram accounts and one Facebook account, garnering 246,000 followers, 60% of whom live in the United States.
The earliest accounts dated to January this year and the operation appeared to be "fairly immature in its development," he said.
They were focused on building their audience, Gleicher added, pointing out that this is an initial step in “trying to set up an operation."
Meanwhile, Ben Nimmo, a researcher with Facebook-commissioned social media analysis company Graphika, said the flagged accounts shared material that could appeal to both Republican and Democratic voters.
Most of the messages plagiarised material authored by leading conservative and progressive pundits. This included recycling comments initially shared on Twitter that criticised US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and incumbent President Donald Trump.
The accounts were “copying and pasting genuine material from actual Americans,” Nimmo told Reuters, adding that this could be a means “to hide linguistic deficiencies, which have made them easier to detect in the past.”