Facebook deletes accounts over signs of Russian meddling in US midterms

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Facebook has detected “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” before the United States midterm elections that could be linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian-based group with ties to the Kremlin.

On Tuesday, the social network removed 32 pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram that were pushing American political stances and organising events, including a protest against a Unite the Right rally due to take place in Washington next week.

“It’s clear whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their identities than the Internet Research Agency did in the run up to the 2016 presidential election,” said Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, in a call with reporters.

In October 2017, the social network admitted that Russia-backed content reached as many as 126 million Americans during the 2016 presidential election. Those accounts sometimes used Russian IP addresses and paid for advertising in roubles.

The people behind the accounts removed on Tuesday, which had a total of 290,000 followers, used virtual private networks (VPNs) to conceal their locations and internet phone services to hide their identities. They paid third parties to spend approximately $11,000 (in US and Canadian dollars) for about 150 ads on Facebook and Instagram.

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