Over 600,000 Americans followed fake Russia-linked Instagram accounts that were detected days before the midterms

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  • Over 600,000 Americans followed Instagram accounts that are now believed to be run by Russian trolls.
  • Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, deleted them just days before the 2018 midterms.
  • The action came after the company was tipped off by the FBI.

Over 600,000 Americans followed a series of fake Instagram and Facebook accounts suspected to be linked to Russia that were detected and removed just days before the 2018 midterms.

On November 5 – the eve of the contentious midterm elections that saw Democrats take control of the House of Representatives – Facebook announced it had been informed by the FBI about “online activity that they belied was linked to foreign entities,” and subsequently took down dozens of accounts and pages.

In an update on Tuesday, Facebook said it has now taken down 99 Instagram accounts, 36 Facebook accounts, and 6 Facebook Pages. 1.25 million Facebook users followed at least one of the Instagram accounts – and 600,000 of these users were in the United States.

Like previous influence campaigns, the various accounts and pages posted politically divisive content, from both left-wing and right-wing perspectives, according to samples provided by Facebook.

Sample content 11 12 18 0031 instagramFacebookOne of the Instagram posts, promoting pro-Trump hashtags including #maga.

In a blog post, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said the accounts may be linked to Russia, which has repeatedly tried to spread misinformation and propaganda on the company’s social networks – most notably during the 2016 US presidential election.

“Last Tuesday, a website claiming to be associated with the Internet Research Agency, a Russia-based troll farm, published a list of Instagram accounts they said that they’d created. We had already blocked most of them, and based on our internal investigation, we blocked the rest,” Gleicher wrote.

“Ultimately, this effort may have been connected to the IRA, but we aren’t best placed to say definitively whether that is the case. As multiple independent experts have pointed out, trolls have an incentive to claim that their activities are more widespread and influential than may be the case. That appears to be true here as well.”

Sample content 11 12 18 0011 instagramFacebookAnother of the accounts promoted pro-LGBTQ content.

The takedowns are illustrative of the ongoing struggle Facebook faces to protect its platform from covert political influence campaigns – with everyone from Iran-linked operatives to political activists at home in the US attempting to game the system in recent months, according to Facebook’s past announcements.

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