SAN FRANCISCO (NBC News) — Facebook said on Tuesday it had uncovered a new, covert campaign to spread divisive political messages on its social network, its first acknowledgment of potential political meddling ahead of this year’s midterm elections.
The company removed 32 pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram “because they were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior,” the company said in a statement. The pages and accounts were connected to protests planned in Washington next week, Facebook said.
Facebook did not say who was behind the operation.
“We’re still in the very early stages of our investigation and don’t have all the facts – including who may be behind this,” the company said.
The activity had “similar qualities” to what the Russian-backed Internet Research Agency employed in advance of the 2016 elections, according to multiple sources who were briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak publicly. The sources said Facebook will not identify Russia as the source of the disinformation campaign.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., confirmed that Senate Intel staff were briefed this week by Facebook officials. Warner said he believed that Russia was behind the effort.
“Today’s disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation, and I am glad that Facebook is taking some steps to pinpoint and address this activity,” Warner said in a statement. “I also expect Facebook, along with other platform companies, will continue to identify Russian troll activity and to work with Congress on updating our laws to better protect our democracy in the future.”
Facebook published on a company blog some examples of the posts it removed.