Facebook said Tuesday it has taken down hundreds of accounts over “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” the most sweeping acknowledgment of continuing influence campaigns on its platform headed into the U.S. midterm elections.
The social network said it shuttered 652 pages and accounts originated in Iran and “targeted people across multiple internet services in the Middle East, Latin America, UK and US.”
Facebook separately removed an undisclosed number of accounts that “can be linked to sources the US government has previously identified as Russian military intelligence services.” Those accounts were most recently “focused on politics in Syria and Ukraine,” according to the company.
“We ban this kind of behavior because authenticity matters and people need to be able to trust the connections that they make on Facebook,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on a call with reporters.
“We’ve been investigating some of these campaigns for months now, which highlights the tensions we face in every investigation between removing bad actors quickly and improving our defenses over time,” Zuckerberg said.
Shortly after Facebook’s revelation, Twitter announced it had also identified hundreds of accounts associated with an influence campaign. “Working with our industry peers today, we have suspended 284 accounts from Twitter for engaging in coordinated manipulation,” the social networking site’s public safety arm tweeted Tuesday night. The company added that “it appears many of these accounts originated from Iran.”
The action comes on the heels of Microsoft’s announcement Tuesday that political groups are facing a barrage of attempted cyberattacks from hackers, including Russians implicated in interference efforts during the 2016 election.
Facebook made its first disclosure about continuing influence operations last month, saying it suspended over two dozen fake accounts and pages that sought to inflame political divisions ahead of the midterms.
The company came under intense scrutiny following the 2016 election campaign for being slow to respond to Russian meddling and misinformation online. The Kremlin-linked efforts sought to sow divisions in U.S. society, promote President Donald Trump and disparage his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Facebook representatives on Tuesday declined to provide specifics on the intent of the newly disclosed “inauthentic” accounts or tie them specifically to the 2018 midterms.
“We’re not really in a position to assess the motivation of these bad actors and what they were or were not attempting to accomplish,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy.
Facebook announced the news just hours after former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty of bank and tax fraud, and Trump’s onetime personal attorney Michael Cohen implicated the president in pre-election hush money payments.
Trump, meanwhile, repeated his accusation, embraced by a number of leading Republicans, that social media companies are censoring conservative views.
“We are also standing up to social media censorship, that’s the new thing,” Trump said Tuesday night during a rally in West Virginia, calling out Facebook and Twitter by name.
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is slated to testify on foreign interference on social media before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Sept. 5, joined by executives from Twitter and Google.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the panel’s top Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday that Facebook’s most recent disclosure is “further evidence that foreign adversaries are actively using social media to divide Americans and undermine our democratic institutions.”
Ashley Gold, Steven Overly and Caitlin Oprysko contributed to this report.