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Facebook Removes Pages, Russian Intelligence Suspected

Lawmakers say Facebook’s announcement is another warning sign

Facebook said this event in Washington, D.C., was sent up by a bad actor. (Facebook screenshot)
Facebook said this event in Washington, D.C., was sent up by a bad actor. (Facebook screenshot)

Updated 3:28 p.m. | Facebook’s announcement about the removal of bogus pages that might be tied to Russian intelligence efforts has the top Democrats on the congressional Intelligence Committees renewing warnings about what’s ahead in 2018.

“Today’s disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation, and I am glad that Facebook is taking some steps to pinpoint and address this activity,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said in a statement. “I also expect Facebook, along with other platform companies, will continue to identify Russian troll activity and to work with Congress on updating our laws to better protect our democracy in the future.”

Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, used Facebook’s announcement to again highlight legislation known as the “Honest Ads Act.” That bill is a bipartisan effort to require disclosures for online advertising in a bid to thwart disinformation.

As part of Facebook’s announcement Tuesday, the social media giant said 32 pages of Facebook and Instagram accounts had been taken down.

Among the accounts removed was a “Resisters” group and an event designed to be a counterprotest against an August “Unite the Right” rally in D.C.

Dylan Petrohilos, who had been a defendant in cases brought against alleged inauguration rioters last year, said Facebook was wrong to delete the event.

“I cannot believe I have to say this: the unite the right counter protest is not being organized by Russians,” Petrohilos tweeted.

A local coalition known as “Shut It Down D.C.” was actually behind the event, said Petrohilos, according to DCist.

Whether the groups behind the fake pages disclosed Tuesday are Russian or not, their level of technical sophistication has improved, Facebook said.

“It’s clear that whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities than the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) has in the past. We believe this could be partly due to changes we’ve made over the last year to make this kind of abuse much harder. But security is not something that’s ever done,” Facebook said in a statement.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California said Facebook’s disclosures confirmed the suspicions of those following Russia’s activity from Capitol Hill.

“Today’s announcement from Facebook demonstrates what we’ve long feared: that malicious foreign actors bearing the hallmarks of previously-identified Russian influence campaigns continue to abuse and weaponize social media platforms to influence the U.S. electorate,” said Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Schiff added, “It is clear that much more work needs to be done before the midterm elections to harden our defenses, because foreign bad actors are using the exact same playbook they used in 2016 — dividing us along political and ideological lines, to the detriment of our cherished democratic system.”

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, highlighted an open hearing with social media experts that his panel had already scheduled for Wednesday.

“I am glad to see that Facebook is taking a much-needed step toward limiting the use of their platform by foreign influence campaigns,” said Sen. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina. “The goal of these operations is to sow discord, distrust, and division in an attempt to undermine public faith in our institutions and our political system. The Russians want a weak America.”

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