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19th of November 2018

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Hours before US Election Day, Facebook pulls dozens of accounts for ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior’

Facebook has pulled the plug on 30 accounts and 85 Instagram accounts that the company says were engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher revealed the latest batch of findings in a late-night blog post Monday.

“On Sunday evening, U.S. law enforcement contacted us about online activity that they recently discovered and which they believe may be linked to foreign entities,” said Gleicher, without naming the law enforcement agency. “We immediately blocked these accounts and are now investigating them in more detail.”

The company didn’t have much more to share, only that the Facebook Pages associated with the accounts “appear to be in the French or Russian languages, while the Instagram accounts seem to have mostly been in English — some were focused on celebrities, others political debate,” he said.

Update: On Tuesday, Facebook added a little additional context to Monday’s blog post. The update comes well into a tense night for U.S. politics, with midterm election results continuing to roll in. 

Gleicher provided the following statement to TechCrunch:

“Last night, following a tip off from law enforcement, we blocked over 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts due to concerns that they were linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) and engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior, which is banned from our services. This evening a website claiming to be associated with the IRA published a list of Instagram accounts they claim to have created. We had already blocked most of these accounts yesterday, and have now blocked the rest. This is a timely reminder that these bad actors won’t give up — and why it’s so important we work with the US government and other technology companies to stay ahead.”

In his post, Gleicher conceded that the company “would be further along with our analysis before announcing anything publicly,” but pledged to post more once the company digs in — including if the accounts are linked to earlier account takedowns linked to Iran.

When reached, a Facebook spokesperson did not comment further.

It’s the latest batch in account takedowns in recent weeks, ahead of the U.S. midterm elections — later on Tuesday — when millions of Americans will go to the polls to vote for new congressional lawmakers and state governors. The election is largely seen as a barometer for the health of the Trump administration, two years after the president was elected amid a concerted state-backed effort by Russian intelligence to spread disinformation and discord on his Democratic opponent.

Only earlier on Monday, a new report from Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism found that election interference remains a major problem for the platform, despite repeated promises from high-level executives that the company is doing what it can to fight false news and misinformation.

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