Facebook confirmed it has identified a coordinated political influence campaign believed to be working ahead of November's midterm elections.
The social media company announced Tuesday it had detected and removed 32 fake accounts and pages from both Facebook and Instagram after identifying "coordinated inauthentic behavior." Of the 32 accounts identified, seven were Instagram accounts, 17 were Facebook profiles and eight were Facebook pages, Facebook said. An estimated 290,000 Facebook accounts followed at least one of those pages.
Facebook said it has not been able to confirm if Russia was involved. During the 2016 election, the Russian troll farm Internet Research Agency (IRA) was accused in an indictment of election interference. In its announcement, Facebook admitted it did not have all the facts on who was responsible for the effort, but said it was disclosing the fake accounts now ahead of planned protests in Washington, D.C., next week.
"It's clear that whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities than the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) has in the past," Facebook wrote in a statement.
Just like during the 2016 elections, the fake accounts and pages focused on divisive social issues, like abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and an attempt to organize a "Unite the Right" resistance rally in Washington, D.C. "No Unite the Right 2 - D.C.," which has since been removed from Facebook, was scheduled for Aug. 10. Facebook identified another event scheduled for January, but most of the about 30 events linked to fake accounts and pages have already passed. Company officials said they cannot be sure what impact these events actually had, or whether anyone attended. Facebook said the fake accounts spent about $11,000 in ads promoting those divisive posts.
The fake accounts used more advanced techniques to avoid detection, such as hiring third parties to run ads for them, Facebook said. Still, the social media company said it was not able to link the fake accounts to the IRA, even though the fake accounts used similar tactics. Facebook did confirm that one IRA account was briefly an admin on a page along with an account in the new set of fake accounts. Several legitimate accounts were also co-admins along with fake accounts.
Facebook said it has shared its findings so far with law enforcement and Congress.
— CNBC's Julia Boorstin contributed to this report.