MENLO PARK (CBS SF / CNN) — Facebook said Thursday it had identified and shut down a network of fake accounts that included fictitious personas it said were tied to Russian military intelligence.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said that, while the accounts had not been primarily targeting the United States, there is a concern that accounts like this could be used in Russian influence operations as November’s US presidential election draws closer.
According to US prosecutors, in 2016, Russian military intelligence used fake online personas and set up a website and a Facebook account for “DC Leaks,” a page that publicized and distributed hacked emails tied to the Hillary Clinton campaign. Russia was responsible for the hacking, US prosecutors said.
Gleicher said Facebook, based in Menlo Park, has not seen specific evidence of a so-called “hack and leak” operation but said “we do think, and I think a number of experts think, realistically this is one of the threats we should be ready for.”
Facebook said the accounts it had shut down had been primarily focused on “the Far East, Russia’s neighboring countries, and Syria.”
“They frequently posted about news and current events, including the Syrian civil war, Turkish domestic politics, geopolitical issues in the Asia-Pacific region, NATO, the war in Ukraine, and politics in the Baltics, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and the US,” Facebook said.
Twitter also said it shut down related accounts on its platform that it could “reliably attribute to state-linked entities” in Russia, a Twitter spokesperson told CNN on Thursday.
Facebook said it had evidence that the group had posed as journalists to contact news organizations — something, Gleicher said, American reporters should be mindful of in the final weeks of the election campaign.
Facebook also said it shut down accounts tied to people who have been associated with the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the infamous Russian troll group that used social media to try to meddle in the 2016 election.
Facebook identified a website, linked to the pages it shut down, that describes itself as an “independent analytical center” but is linked to the troll operation.
Facebook identified this after a tip from the FBI, the company said.
Earlier this month, following another tip from the FBI, Facebook shut down accounts to a website that was posing as an independent leftwing news outlet. Facebook said that site too was tied to the IRA. The website recruited unwitting American writers to contribute to it.
Russia has repeatedly denied it used social media to interfere in the 2016 election.
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