Facebook uncovers effort to disrupt elections


Associated Press

NEW YORK

Facebook elevated concerns about election interference Tuesday, announcing that it had uncovered “sophisticated” efforts, possibly linked to Russia, to manipulate U.S. politics and by extension the upcoming midterm elections.

The company was careful to hedge its announcement; it didn’t link the effort directly to Russia or to the midterms, now less than a hundred days away. And its findings were limited to 32 apparently fake accounts on Facebook and Instagram, which the company removed because they were involved in “coordinated” and “inauthentic” political behavior.

But officials in Washington connected those dots anyway, not least because the reported activity so closely mirrored Russian influence campaigns during the 2016 presidential election. Nearly 300,000 people followed at least one of the newly banned accounts, and thousands expressed interest in events they promoted.

“This is an absolute attack on our democracy,” said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, which Facebook had briefed in advance. Warner expressed “pretty high confidence” that Russia was behind the assault.

A spokesman for Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said Facebook had informed his office “that a limited group of Russian actors has attempted to spread disinformation using its platform and that the affected groups are affiliated with the political left.”

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