Facebook finds 'sophisticated' efforts to disrupt elections


NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook said it has uncovered "sophisticated" efforts, possibly linked to Russia, to influence U.S. politics on its platforms.

The company said it removed 32 accounts from Facebook and Instagram because they were involved in "coordinated" political behavior and appeared to be fake. Nearly 300,000 people followed at least one of the accounts.

Facebook stopped short of saying the effort was aimed at influencing the U.S. midterm elections in November, although the timing of the suspicious activity would be consistent with such an attempt.

According to a Facebook official, the company this week briefed members of the House and Senate as well as officials at the Department of Homeland Security. The official declined to be named because the briefings were private. Facebook disclosed its findings after The New York Times reported on them earlier today.

The company said it doesn't know who is behind the efforts, but said there may be connections to Russia. Facebook said it has found some links between the accounts it removed and the accounts created by Russia's Internet Research Agency that it removed before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, called the disclosure "further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation."

The earliest page was created in March 2017. Facebook says more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the fake pages. The most followed Facebook pages had names such as "Aztlan Warriors," ''Black Elevation," ''Mindful Being," and "Resisters."

Facebook didn't provide detailed descriptions of those pages. But the names it released are reminiscent of groups set up by Russian agents to draw in and manipulate Americans with particular ethnic, cultural or political identities ahead of the 2016 election. That effort targeted people with both liberal and conservative leanings.

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