World / Politics

Facebook and Twitter say Russian meddling in U.S. poll harder to spot

AP, Reuters

Facebook and Twitter revealed evidence Thursday suggesting that Russian efforts to interfere in the U.S. presidential election are getting more sophisticated and harder to detect.

The companies said they have removed dozens of fake accounts and pages from their services.

Facebook said the network of accounts it removed was in the “early stages” of building an audience. It was operated by people in Ghana and Nigeria on behalf of individuals in Russia. The accounts posted about topics such as black history, celebrity gossip and fashion.

Twitter said the accounts it removed tried to sow discord by emphasizing social issues such as race and civil rights without favoring any particular candidate or ideology.

The tactics the accounts used to avoid detection — and that Russia has essentially outsourced the work to countries in West Africa — shows that foreign interference remains a challenge for Facebook in the months leading to November.

The accounts Facebook took down focused on stoking racial divisions. Some posed as legitimate nongovernmental organizations in order to deceive people.

The takedowns follow a report last week that found Moscow’s campaign of election interference hasn’t let up since 2016, and in fact has gotten more difficult to detect.

That report, from University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Young Mie Kim, found that Russia-linked social media accounts are posting about the same divisive issues — race relations, gun laws and immigration — as they did in 2016, when the Kremlin polluted American voters’ feeds with messages about the presidential election. Facebook has since removed those accounts as well.

Last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that Russia was still waging “information warfare” with an army of fictional social media personas and bots that spread disinformation.

Russia has repeatedly denied interfering in U.S. elections.

Facebook said its investigation found links to an NGO in Ghana called Eliminating Barriers to the Liberation of Africa and individuals associated with past activity by Russia’s Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based “troll factory” that U.S. intelligence officials say aimed to interfere in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

A CNN investigation found that accounts in Ghana and Nigeria claimed they belonged to people in the United States such as in Brooklyn or New Orleans.

In a statement on Thursday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said, “The potential use of cutouts on another continent meant to mask Russian connections is a startling signal that our adversaries continue to pursue new and inventive ways to cover their tracks and evade detection.”

In this latest takedown, which was relatively small, the companies removed 49 Facebook accounts, 69 Facebook pages, 85 Instagram accounts, and 71 Twitter accounts.

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