The 115 accounts Facebook took down yesterday for inauthentic behavior ahead of the mid-term elections may indeed have been linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, according to a new statement from the company. It says that a site claiming association with the IRA today posted a list of Instagram accounts it had made, which included many Facebook had taken down yesterday, and it also has since removed the rest. The IRA was previously labeled as responsible for using Facebook to interfere with U.S. politics and the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, issued this 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.
Yesterday, Facebook had published that it would provide an update on whether the removed accounts were connected to Russia, as some were in Russian languages:
On Sunday evening, US law enforcement contacted us about online activity that they recently discovered and which they believe may be linked to foreign entities . . . Almost all the Facebook Pages associated with these 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 . . . Typically, we would be further along with our analysis before announcing anything publicly. But given that we are only one day away from important elections in the US, we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today. Once we know more — including whether these accounts are linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency or other foreign entities — we will update this post.
Attribution of foreign interference into politics via social media can be difficult to accurately attribute, however. Facebook could have provided stronger wording in this update regarding its own evidence about the connection between Russia and the 80 Facebook accounts and 35 Instagram accounts it removed yesterday. Now with the mid-term results being counted, we’ll see if politicians or researchers suggest election interference could have influenced any of the results.