Facebook picks up accounts that deal with misinformation on the eve of noon

Facebook picks up accounts that deal with misinformation on the eve of noon

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Inc. said late Monday that it has dismantled 115 Facebook and Instagram accounts as the social media platform takes action against false information campaigns on the eve of the US midterm elections.

US law enforcement officials forced Facebook to join activities on Sunday night, the company said in a blog post. Government officials believe the activity can be associated with foreign players, the company said. The company closed 30 accounts on Facebook and 85 on Instagram.

The disclosure underlines that foreign actors are still using social media to try to shape US policy, barely a year after Facebook announced that Russian state actors used Facebook, Instagram and other platforms to get into the US to interfere with divisive presidential races in 2016.

In its announcement released on Monday, Facebook said that it could not provide much detail on the accounts, but decided to announce the investigation, with Tuesday's elections on the verge of elimination. The company said it would deliver more updates as it learned more from its investigation, including whether any of its activities were related to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm allegedly behind the Kremlin-based disinformation efforts for 2016 Choice.

"Normally, we would continue our analysis before we announce anything publicly," said Nathaniel Gleicher, who oversees Facebook's cybersecurity policy. "However, as we are only one day away from important US elections, we wanted to inform people about the measures and facts we know today."

Last year, Facebook said Russia's posts on Facebook reached an estimated 146 million people, including 20 million on Instagram. Russia has denied any interference in the US election. Facebook has since found smaller amounts of counterfeit accounts set up by actors in Iran and Russia – including only late October – which apparently influenced political discussion.

A Facebook spokesman declined to say whether the settlements wanted to interfere in the midterm elections. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the post of National Intelligence Director, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Facebook's announcement on late Monday came shortly after a joint statement by senior government officials, including heads of the FBI and DHS, outlining the government's efforts to prevent electoral disruptions in the meantime.

"At present, we have no evidence of a compromise in our country's electoral infrastructure that would prevent voting, change the number of votes, or interfere with the ability to vote," the statement says. However, it added, "Americans should be aware that foreign actors – and Russia in particular – continue to seek to influence public sentiment and voters' perceptions through measures designed to create discord."

Several US officials, including DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, said in recent weeks that they are more concerned about disinformation in social media than direct attacks on the electoral infrastructure.

The pages linked to the 30 Facebook accounts were mostly in French and Russian, while the Instagram accounts were mostly in English, Facebook said. Some Instagram accounts focused on political debates, others on celebrities. The spokesman for Facebook declined to say on which topics the Facebook pages had written.

Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com and Dustin Volz at dustin.volz@wsj.com

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