(CBS SF / CNN) — Facebook said it had banned a company it believes ran fake accounts for the conservative group Turning Point USA, the Menlo Park-based social media giant announced Thursday.
Facebook said the marketing firm Rally Forge, working on behalf of Turning Point USA, ran a campaign that relied upon fake accounts that posted criticism of former Vice President Joe Biden and praise for President Donald Trump. According to Facebook, that campaign included tactics like commenting on the Facebook pages of major national American media outlets.
The alleged activity was first identified through an investigation by The Washington Post, which prompted Facebook to look into the group.
“Many of these accounts used stock profile photos and posed as right-leaning individuals from across the US. In 2018, some of these accounts posed as left-leaning individuals to comment on content as well. This activity was centered primarily around commenting on news articles posted by news organizations and public figures, rather than posting their own content,” Facebook said in a report published Thursday.
Facebook added in the report, “The most recent activity included creating what we call ‘thinly veiled personas’ whose names were slight variations of the names of the people behind them and whose sole activity on our platform was associated with this deceptive campaign.”
Rally Forge has been permanently banned from Facebook. As a result of the investigation, Facebook says that it has removed 200 Facebook accounts, 55 Facebook pages and 76 Instagram accounts. About 373,000 accounts followed one or more of the Facebook pages and around 22,000 people followed one or more of the Instagram accounts.
Rally Forge did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When reached for comment, Turning Point USA said that Rally Forge was in fact working with Turning Point Action. Turning Point Action is a separate legal entity from Turning Point USA, set up as a non-profit permitted to engage in some political activities, unlike Turning Point USA.
“Facebook’s press release in question was in reference to a project for Turning Point Action, a 501c4, an entirely separate entity,” Turning Point Action said in a statement to CNN Business. “Turning Point Action works hard to operate within social platforms’ [terms of service] on all of its projects and communications and we hope to work closely with FB to rectify any misunderstanding.”
Facebook did not ban Turning Point USA or its president, Charlie Kirk, saying it was unclear if the organization had knowledge of the tactics used by the marketing company.
On a call with reporters, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said the operations the company has removed recently are “younger” and have less of a following than previous operations that have been removed. “So, in that sense, we are in fact seeing diminished returns and diminished operations,” he said.
“We know that these actors are going to keep trying and we know that they will keep trying to find a path around what the enforcement is put in place. But what we have found is that the combination of automated enforcement and expert investigation means that these operations are smaller, lasting less time and reaching fewer people before they get caught,” Gleicher added.
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