The Facebook Inc. application is displayed on an Apple Inc. iPhone in an arranged photograph taken in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Johannes Berg/Bloomberg)

Facebook Removes Fake Accounts That Originated in Iran

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. removed 82 fake pages, accounts and groups that originated in Iran, the latest effort by the company to clean up its social network ahead of midterm elections in the U.S.

The Menlo Park, California-based company said in a blog post Friday that it took action against the accounts for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that targeted people in the U.S. and U.K. The fake page administrators have been masquerading as Americans or U.K. citizens and posting about politically charged topics such as race relations, opposition to President Donald Trump and immigration, Facebook said.

Facebook stressed that it found no ties to the Iranian government and doesn’t know for sure who is responsible. The activity happened on both Facebook and its Instagram service.

Facebook’s threat intelligence team, part of its new election-focused War Room, first detected the activity a week ago. The company said it worked quickly to investigate and remove the bad actors, and shared the information with government officials from the U.S. and U.K.

“Given that the U.S. midterm elections are just a few weeks away, we took action as soon as we completed our investigation,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said on a call with reporters. “We have been in contact with law enforcement, both the foreign influence task force at the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security,” he said.

Facebook has been working to show it can help prevent interference in U.S. elections by other countries, after disclosing last year that Russia used its site to create political turmoil ahead of the 2016 presidential vote.

The company is beefing up its relationship with not only federal law enforcement, but also state election officials who will be running polls on the ground. "As we lead into the final days before the midterms, our expectation is that they will be seeing challenges," Gleicher said. "We have made sure they can reach out to us and we can work with them quickly."

Iran is the first country besides Russia that Facebook has said used similar tools. The company is stepping up election monitoring, increasing what it spends on security and running the War Room where teams scrutinize activity. So far, recent elections, like the one in Brazil, have still been plagued by misinformation. The company has said it is racing to keep up with the techniques of bad actors.

Here are more details Facebook shared on Friday:

  • The company removed 33 Facebook accounts, 30 Facebook Pages and three Facebook groups, as well as 16 Instagram accounts.
  • More than 1 million accounts followed at least one of these Pages and about 25,000 accounts joined at least one of these groups.
  • More than 28,000 accounts followed the fake Instagram accounts.
  • The fraudulent accounts arranged seven events and spent less than $100 for ads on Facebook and Instagram, which were paid for in U.S. and Canadian dollars.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.