LONDON/WASHINGTON – A network of Instagram accounts operated from Russia has targeted Americans with divisive political messages ahead of next year’s presidential election and posed as local people in U.S. states including Virginia and Florida, Facebook said.
Facebook said it had suspended the accounts on Monday, as well as three separate networks operated from Iran. The Russian network “showed some links” to Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), Facebook said, an organization Washington has said was used by Moscow to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election.
“We see this operation targeting largely U.S. public debate and engaging in the sort of political issues that are challenging and sometimes divisive in the U.S. right now,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy.
“Whenever you do that, a piece of what you engage on are topics that are going to matter for the election. But I can’t say exactly what their goal was.”
U.S. security officials have warned that Russia, Iran and other countries could attempt to sway the result of next year’s presidential vote and say they are on high alert for signs of foreign influence campaigns on social media.
Moscow and Tehran have repeatedly denied the allegations.
Gleicher said the IRA-linked network used 50 Instagram accounts and one Facebook account to gather 246,000 followers, about 60 percent of which were in the United States.
The earliest accounts dated back to January this year and the operation appeared to be “fairly immature in its development,” he said.
“They were pretty focused on audience-building, which is the thing you do first as you’re sort of trying to set up an operation.”