Social media giant suspends fake accounts tied to Roger Stone – a longtime ally of US President Trump – Brazil's President Bolsonaro, and networks in Canada, Ecuador, and Ukraine which disguised their true origins.
Facebook has suspended a network of social media accounts it said were used to spread divisive political messages online by employees of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and two of his sons.
The company said on Wednesday that despite efforts to disguise who was behind the activity, it had found links to the staff of two Brazilian lawmakers, as well as the president and his sons, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro and Senator Flavio Bolsonaro.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, said the accounts were removed for using fake personas and other types of "coordinated inauthentic behaviour" which violated the company's rules.
He said there was no evidence the politicians themselves had operated the accounts.
"What we can prove is that employees of those offices are engaged on our platforms in this type of behaviour," he told Reuters news agency ahead of the announcement on the company's blog.
Bolsonaro office's deceptive campaign
Facebook said the deceptive campaign in Brazil was linked to the Social Liberal Party and employees of the offices Bolsonaro and his allies.
The network in Brazil relied on fictitious personae posing as reporters masquerading as news outlets, Facebook determined.
Bogus accounts in Brazil posted about elections; political memes; political opposition, journalists, and most recently they posted about the coronavirus pandemic, according to the leading social network.
Gleicher credited press reports and congressional testimony in Brazil with leading Facebook to uncover the network there.
The Atlantic Council's Digital Forensics Research Lab, working with Facebook, found "duplicate and fake accounts that promoted Bolsonaro and his allies in various Facebook groups, as well as pages with hundreds of thousand followers that published pro-Bolsonaro memes and other content disparaging his critics," according to a post by researchers.
"While the pages did not openly state that they were connected to Bolsonaro and his allies, several were linked to staffers of pro-Bolsonaro politicians."
Account of Trump ally taken down
Facebook has also taken down accounts of Roger Stone, a longtime ally of US President Donald Trump after an investigation uncovered links to a network involved in deceptive activity dating back to the 2016 US election.
Stone's personal accounts at Facebook and Instagram were among those removed in a crackdown on "inauthentic coordinated behaviour" in various parts of the world, the social networking giant said.
The Stone network was uncovered with the help of information unearthed by the Robert Mueller investigation, according to Facebook's Gleicher.
Stone, who has been convicted on charges of lying and witness tampering in a federal investigation, was linked to more than 50 Facebook and Instagram accounts, and dozens of pages involved in the actions before and after the 2016 election.
"We want to make sure these assets, most of which are dormant, can't be reactivated and used in the upcoming election," Gleicher said.
The fake accounts posted about local politics in Florida; hacked materials released by Wikileaks ahead of the US 2016 election; candidates in the 2016 primaries and general election, as well as Stone himself and his trial, according to Facebook.
Almost all of the Facebook accounts were fake, many displaying bogus profile photos taken from elsewhere online, and were used to establish pages and make them seem more popular than they were, according to a study for Facebook by the digital forensics firm Graphika.
"Much of the network's content focused on Roger Stone, praising his political acumen, defending him against criminal charges, and demanding that he be pardoned," Graphika said in a report.
The network operated across platforms, with some related assets on Twitter and YouTube; at least two petitions on change.org, and comments on news articles, according to Graphika.
The bulk of the activity on the network was in around and immediately after the 2016 presidential election, but parts of it were active this year posting about Stone’s court case and judgment, Graphika said.
South American countries targeted
A separate network originating in Canada and Ecuador was focused on El Salvador, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Chile, according to Facebook.
This network posted about news in the countries it targeted, with topics including politics, activism, praise, and criticism of political candidates, Gleicher said.
A Facebook investigation found links to political consultants and former government employees in Ecuador and Estraterra, a Canada-based PR firm.
Estraterra is now banned from Facebook platforms, according to Gleicher.
A network disrupted in Ukraine was particularly active during the 2019 presidential election in that country, posting political memes, satire, and other content including about Crimea, NATO, economic policies in Ukraine, domestic politics, elections, criticism, and support of various candidates, Facebook said.
Facebook linked the activity to Postmen DA, an advertising agency in Ukraine.