Facebook takes down fake accounts linked to French military and Russia

The networks targeted countries in North Africa and the Middle East.

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Facebook has taken down three networks of fake accounts for coordinated influence campaigns. The company said the networks had ties to individuals linked to the French military, and Russia’s Internet Research Agency.

The takedowns represent the first time Facebook has uncovered coordinated inauthentic behavior linked to people associated with a western country’s military, according to the company’s head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher. He added that the company’s investigation did not find evidence of “institutional” support from the military.

The network consisted of 84 Facebook accounts, 14 Instagram profiles, six Facebook pages and nine groups, which had amassed about 5,000 followers and 1,6000 group members. According to Facebook, the network posted “primarily in French and Arabic about news and current events including France’s policies in Francophone Africa, the security situation in various African countries, claims of potential Russian interference in the election in the Central African Republic (CAR), supportive commentary about French military, and criticism of Russia’s involvement in CAR.”

Notably, Gleicher said that the French network had also engaged with content from one of the other networks tied to Russia. “While we’ve seen influence operations target the same regions in the past, this was the first time our team found two campaigns — from France and Russia — actively engage with one another, including by befriending, commenting and criticizing the opposing side for being Fake,” Gleicher wrote.

The two networks tied to Russia also posted about Africa, as well as the Middle East, with one network “focused primarily on the Central African Republic,” and one “focused primarily on Libya, Sudan, and Syria.” The latter group gained more than 5 million followers and spent nearly $200,000 in advertising on the platform. Both networks were linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), the infamous “troll farm” that gained notoriety for its 2016 election interference campaign in the United States.

Facebook also said the IRA used a familiar tactic in its campaign focused on Central Africa: using content from actual local journalists to bolster its credibility. Facebook and Twitter previously uncovered an IRA network that ran a literal fake news site in the US that tricked unsuspecting journalists into creating content for them.