Facebook Warns of Foreign Operators Exaggerating Their Election-Interference Abilities
By Jeff Horwitz and Dustin Volz
Facebook Inc. said it took down a small network of fake accounts
and pages tied to the Iranian government, while also warning that
foreign actors are attempting to exaggerate their ability to
influence the U.S. election in a way that itself could affect the
Tuesday's announcement about the Iranian network is the latest
of several in which Facebook said it removed pages and accounts
that were limited in scope and had made little headway in their
efforts to sow disinformation. The company said it removed 12
Facebook accounts, six pages and 11 Instagram accounts tied to the
Iranian government that were focused on the U.S. and Israel. The
network had only 820 followers total, and many of the accounts
involved were dormant.
At the same time, Facebook officials said they were increasingly
on the alert for foreign actors attempting to hype their own impact
on the U.S. election in an attempt to "weaponize uncertainty to sow
distrust and division" about the vote -- a strategy the company
called "perception hacking."
"Overstating the importance of these campaigns plays into the
hands of malicious actors, whether foreign or domestic, and we
should not take the bait," said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head
of cybersecurity policy, in a conference call with reporters.
Mr. Gleicher said that there are no guarantees that more
significant foreign manipulation efforts were not escaping
Facebook's detection, but the apparent shift away from large-scale
automated networks of accounts suggests that the people behind such
efforts are having less success.
Iran has grown as a source of election interference concern for
U.S. intelligence officials in recent weeks, as the country has
surprised some analysts with its apparent willingness to directly
target Americans with disinformation about voting. Last week, John
Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, said that Iran
was responsible for a barrage of emails sent to Democratic voters
in multiple states that purported to be from a far-right group and
were intended to intimidate voters and incite social unrest. Iran
denied the allegations.
One of the Iran-linked accounts taken down by Facebook as part
of Tuesday's announcement had sought to amplify the same claims,
Mr. Gleicher said.
Facebook also announced Tuesday the removal of another minor
network focused on U.S. political issues, this one originating with
individuals in Mexico. Facebook noted that it had amplified some
content previously linked to Russia's Internet Research Agency, but
said it had no proof that the effort was connected.
More concerning, Mr. Gleicher said, were attempts by foreign
actors to take credit for mass-scale election interference.
"The threat actors want to be seen as large and impactful," he
said. "In particular, we should be conscious of the risk that
malicious actors could use fictitious claims to suggest that
election infrastructure has been compromised."
Mr. Gleicher said he was particularly concerned that such
propagandists would seek to portray high levels of legitimate
voting in certain areas as evidence of manipulation.
Earlier this year, the U.S. intelligence community said in a
public bulletin that Iran was interfering in the election to
undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions and harm
President Trump. Russia was engaged in a multipronged effort to
denigrate Democratic nominee Joe Biden, the alert said, while
China, though less active, also wanted to see Mr. Trump fail in his
Intelligence officials have generally viewed Russia as the most
serious foreign threat to the 2020 presidential election, based on
its widespread disinformation activity on social media in 2016 and
a number of warning signs that hackers have been targeting
campaigns and American political groups in recent months.
But some security officials have said in recent weeks that
Moscow, by some measures, has been relatively quiet compared with
four years ago, and that Iran has stepped up its interference
Mr. Ratcliffe, the intelligence chief, has agreed to have his
office brief some congressional representatives from Florida about
foreign interference efforts affecting the state, a spokeswoman
said Tuesday. Florida, a key battleground state, was among those
allegedly targeted by Iran's intimidation operation identified last
Write to Jeff Horwitz at Jeff.Horwitz@wsj.com and Dustin Volz at
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 27, 2020 15:47 ET (19:47 GMT)
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