Thu, 21 Nov 2019

Facebook says it has suspended a series of Instagram accounts originating in Russia whose operators posed as people inside the United States that targeted Americans with divisive political messages ahead of next year's presidential election.

The social-media giant on October 21 said it had also suspended three separate networks operated from Iran. It said the Russian network 'showed some links' to Russia's Internet Research Agency (IRA).

The IRA, a St. Petersburg-based organization known for being a Russian 'troll farm,' was mentioned repeatedly by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation into Russian election interference.

According to U.S. experts, IRA is owned by the Kremlin-connected businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, sometimes referred to as 'Putin's Chef.'

'We see this operation targeting largely U.S. public debate and engaging in the sort of political issues that are challenging and sometimes divisive in the U.S. right now,' said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy.

Gleicher said the IRA-linked network consisted of 50 Instagram accounts and one Facebook account and gathered 246,000 followers, about 60 percent of which were in the United States.

'Whenever you do that, a piece of what you engage on are topics that are going to matter for the election. But I can't say exactly what their goal was.'

Facebook also announced new steps to fight foreign interference and misinformation ahead of next year's election.

U.S. security officials have warned that Russia, Iran, and other countries could attempt to influence the result of the November 2020 presidential vote. Officials say they are on high alert for signs of foreign influence campaigns on social media.

Moscow and Tehran have repeatedly denied the allegations.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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