MENLO PARK, CALIF. — Facebook announced Tuesday it has removed two pages and 13 accounts it says were part of a Russian disinformation campaign that targeted left-wing American voters and hired real-life freelance journalists.
The social networking site said it launched an investigation after receiving a tip from the FBI that individuals formerly associated with the Russian Internet Research Agency were running a “global news organization” called Peace Data, which used Facebook to share its content. The Russian Internet Research Agency is an alleged Kremlin-backed troll organization that ran a disinformation campaign aimed at manipulating U.S. voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook said it stopped Peace Data in its early stages before it gained much traction – about 14,000 people followed at least one of the pages, which were set up in May.
Facebook said it suspended the pages and accounts for using fake identities and other forms of “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
“It confirms what I think we’ve all thought: Russian actors are trying to target the 2020 elections and public debate in the U.S., and they’re trying to be creative about it,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said, according to NBC News.
Gleicher added that Facebook is doing a better job of rooting out disinformation this election season.
“They’ve gotten better at hiding who they are, but their impact has gotten smaller and smaller,” he said, The Washington Post reported.
Facebook shared its data with Graphika, a New York-based social media analysis firm, which conducted an independent review and released a report Tuesday.
Graphika found that Peace Data’s content “paid particular attention to racial and political tensions,” including racial injustice protests and criticism of both President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The firm, however, said it appears Peace Data was mostly trying to appeal to a left-wing audience and steer it away from supporting Biden.
Last month, American intelligence officials said Russia is once again attempting to interfere in the U.S. presidential election to help Trump win. Moscow has insisted it does not meddle in other countries’ politics.
Peace Data allegedly used fake personas to advertise for writers in the United States on freelance websites and Twitter. Facebook said there is no indication the writers knew whom they were working for.
Twitter also announced Tuesday it suspended five accounts related to Peace Data, calling them “Russian state actors.”