Facebook informed lawmakers in a private meeting this morning that they detected and suspended dozens of fake accounts which they say were waging a 2016-style influence campaign on the 2018 midterms.
While Facebook did not explicitly say that Russia's Internet Research Agency (the professional hacking and troll farm) was behind the effort, it was strongly implied.
In briefings on Capitol Hill, Facebook has told lawmakers that it suspects a Russian group is behind more than 30 pages advocating US political stances, according to a congressional source briefed on the matter. One page promoted a "No Unite the Right 2" march -- a counter demonstration to a planned "Unite the Right" event to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the march in Charlottesville in which a woman was killed. There was also an effort to amplify the "Abolish ICE" message pushed by liberals, the source said.
“We’re still in the very early stages of our investigation and don’t have all the facts — including who may be behind this,” Facebook said.
More than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the pages and that about $11,000 had been spent on about 150 ads, the company said. The pages had created about 30 events since May 2017.
This probably sounds familiar because buying Facebook ads to promote their own Facebook pages where they created events for people to attend is exactly what they did in 2016. We know some of the events scheduled by the Russians in 2016 were attended by Trump supports and even some members of Trump's campaign in Florida, but Facebook says they don't currently know if anyone attended the events scheduled since May of last year.
Given that Facebook says they're "still in the very early stages" of their investigation, it seems reasonable to assume that this is only the beginning and more fake accounts will be uncovered.
I can't praise Facebook for coming forward now because they could have done the same in 2016. Facebook is coming forward now because they're deathly afraid of being regulated and afraid of the public's reaction to another election being swayed by their platform.
$11,00 may not seem like a lot of money to spend on advertising, but on Facebook that's far more than it sounds like. Facebook's tools allow you to target extremely specific groups of people with ads for a relatively low cost and the Russians already know who to target. They've done it before.