Facebook says it has dismantled a small network of accounts and pages that were part of a Russian influence operation.
The company said the campaign was linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), an organization close to the Russian government and accused of interference in the 2016 US election.
Twitter also suspended five accounts from the same network.
Using elaborate fake online profiles spanning multiple sites, the network’s members posed as a news organization based in Romania called PeaceData, recruiting freelance journalists to write stories for left-leaning audiences.
Both Facebook and Twitter said the campaign had achieved very limited success.
The announcements by Facebook and Twitter came as the result of collaboration with the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force over the PeaceData website.
Facebook said it removed 13 accounts and two pages, which sought to „target public debate in the US” and other countries, including the UK and Egypt.
The operation had achieved „very little reach,” with around 14,000 accounts following one or more of the pages it had removed, Facebook said. The English-language page had around 200 followers.
The deleted accounts used fake names and profile pictures, Facebook said, but real and „unwitting” freelance writers appeared to have written for the PeaceData website.
Twitter said the content created by the accounts was „low quality and spammy, and most Tweets from these accounts received few, if any, Likes or Retweets”.
“They’ve gotten better at hiding who they are, but their impact has gotten smaller and smaller,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said of the foreign operations.
Facebook said Peac Data billed itself as a “global news organization” whose goal was “to shed light on the global issues and raise awareness about corruption, environmental crisis, abuse of power, armed conflicts, activism, and human rights.”
Among the targets were Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris/. They were criticized by the phony network as immoral tools of political conservatives.
Some posts also criticized U.S. President Donald Trump, but the target audience in the United States was democratic socialists, environmentalists and disaffected Democrats, the report found.
“The English-language content on Biden and Harris was noteworthy for its hostile tone,” according to a Graphika report. “One article by a guest writer accused the pair of ‘submission to right-wing populism “
“The operation seemed designed to divide Democratic supporters and to depress support for Biden and Harris,” said Camille François, chief innovation officer for Graphika.
In 2016, Russian operatives from the Internet Research Agency ran widespread disinformation campaigns on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and drew huge audiences with content that attempted to sow division among U.S. voters and bolster Trump’s campaign for president.
Using unwitting locals is part of a growing strategy used by foreign disinformation operatives as it makes it harder to expose an operation.