Facebook said it had identified and removed more than 80 pages, groups and accounts on the platform that originated in Iran and had reached more than a million Facebook and Instagram users with highly politicized content.
In a blog post Friday afternoon, Facebook said it had pulled 30 Facebook pages, 33 Facebook accounts, three Facebook groups and 16 Instagram accounts after identifying them as behaving in “inauthentic, coordinated behavior.” The accounts, pages and groups had been active for longer than a year and had posted divisive political content focusing on topics like race relations in the U.S., the controversial hearings for the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, issues surrounding immigration and opposition to President Donald Trump.
In a brief press call Friday afternoon, Facebook head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said the posts, which focused on politically and socially divisive topics, were intent on “targeting broad division” and “sowing discord.” Facebook’s investigation was not focusing on whether the information included false information, he said.
More than 1 million Facebook accounts followed at least one of the now-pulled pages, 25,000 Facebook accounts joined one of the three Facebook groups and 28,000 Instagram accounts followed the inauthentic Instagram accounts. Those Facebook groups and accounts hosted at least seven events.
While some of the accounts existed on the platform for longer than a year, Facebook’s threat intelligence team first became aware of the activity a week ago and took action Friday morning to remove the pages and accounts, the company said.
The company is still identifying how many Facebook users may have seen the information and determining more details about the seven event pages from the bad actors. On the call Friday, Gleicher said the majority of the content was based in the U.S.
In an email, a Facebook spokesperson said the company has not notified Facebook users who may have seen or interacted with content from the offending pages and would not provide more information about the number of Facebook users in the U.S. who may have been exposed to the inauthentic accounts and pages.
Facebook conducted a manual review of the suspect pages, groups and accounts after it noticed suspected inauthentic behavior. That review revealed that the posts originated from Iran, but Facebook said it had not found links from the content to the Iranian government.
In August, Facebook pulled more than 600 Facebook pages, accounts and groups that the social media company had linked to Iran state media. Gleicher said Friday that Facebook found some links back to the information it had removed in August.
Facebook moved quickly to remove the post because of the impending midterm elections in the U.S., which are set to take place in less than two weeks. Facebook has also informed authorities about its investigation.
Facebook has heavily promoted its so-called “War Room,” a 300-person team dedicated to tracking down election interference issues in the lead-up to the U.S. midterm elections, and it seems the Friday takedown is the group’s first test. During the call Friday, Gleicher said Facebook was preparing to “move fast” to address additional election interference efforts originating from outside the country.
“We face smart, well-funded adversaries who will never get up, and constantly change tactics as we improve,” Gleicher said. “The adversarial nature of this work means that we will have to continue to invest heavily in safety and security, not just to prevent election interference on Facebook but also to protect the authenticity of the connections and conversations across our services.”