While the campaigns targeted several African nations, they are likely to ramp up fears that the 2020 U.S. election could see a repeat of the disinformation spread by Russian actors in 2016. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference found that Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) reached millions of U.S. users on social media in the lead up to the last presidential election and used its false accounts to influence voters and even drive them to manufactured rallies.
In three separate campaigns targeting various African states including Madagascar, Sudan and Libya, Facebook said the networks of accounts and pages posted about local news, politics and local elections. In each case, hundreds of thousands of accounts followed at least one of the pages created by these networks. Advertising spend ranged from $160 in the campaign primarily targeting Sudan, to $77,000 as part of the campaign targeting a series of countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and Madagascar.
Facebook’s investigation connected these most recent campaigns to entities associated with Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Russian financier previously indicted by the U.S. Justice Department, Facebook’s cybersecurity chief Nathanial Gleicher said in the blog post announcing the accounts’ removal. Prigozhin is closely linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin and is known as “Putin’s chief.”
Facebook announced new updates to its policy on removing inauthentic behavior last week. In a post announcing the changes, Facebook said in the case of coordinated inauthentic behavior “conducted on behalf of a government entity or by a foreign actor, we will apply the broadest enforcement measures including the removal of every on-platform property connected to the operation itself and the people and organizations behind it.”
Facebook has received tons of criticism over other policies that will play into the 2020 election. Most recently, Democrats including presidential candidate and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have criticized Facebook’s stance on political ads which says those placed by politicians will not be fact-checked or removed. Lawmakers have warned that position could result in a wave of disinformation running rampant throughout the election cycle.