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Facebook nabs Russia-linked campaign to fuel US chaos

The small network of 13 Facebook accounts and two pages posing as journalists and targeting left-wing progressives was removed for violating a policy against "foreign interference" at the platform.

The Facebook pages were said to be crafted to drive viewers to websites of the social network, and their operators were working diligently to get approval to run targeted ads. Picture: supplied

SAN FRANCISCO – Facebook on Tuesday said that it has caught a budding Russia-linked campaign to fuel political chaos in the US, working off a tip from the FBI in its latest take-down of coordinated inauthentic behavior at the leading social network.

The small network of 13 Facebook accounts and two pages posing as journalists and targeting left-wing progressives was removed for violating a policy against "foreign interference" at the platform.

The investigation that uncovered the covert operation, which was linked to the Internet Research Agency in Russian (IRA), started with a tip from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to Facebook head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher.

The network was in the early stages of building an audience, with little engagement from users, Facebook said.

"They put substantial effort into creating elaborate fictitious personas, trying to make fake accounts look as real as possible," Gleicher said while briefing reporters.

The group posted on topics "including social and racial justice in the US and UK, NATO and EU politics, alleged Western war crimes and corruption, environmental issues, the founder of Wikileaks, tensions between Israel and Palestine, the coronavirus pandemic, criticism of fracking, French influence in Africa, the Biden-Harris campaign, QAnon, President Trump and his policies, and the US military policies in Africa," Facebook said.

Profile photos were generated using computer software to appear more realistic, and unwitting freelance writers were recruited to write material to be posted online, according to Facebook.

The Facebook pages were said to be crafted to drive viewers to websites of the social network, and their operators were working diligently to get approval to run targeted ads.

"It follows a steady pattern where particularly Russian actors have gotten better at hiding who they are, but their impact is smaller and smaller and they are getting caught earlier," Gleicher said.

"These actors are caught between a rock and hard place: run a large network that gets caught quickly or run a small network that has limited reach."

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