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Facebook ties newly suspended accounts to the Kremlin: A ‘timely reminder’ of election meddling threat

Facebook said Tuesday it had “concerns” the more than 100 accounts it suspended days before the 2018 midterms were linked to the same Russian agents that spread disinformation online during the U.S. presidential race two years earlier.

The new, more explicit attribution from the social-networking giant — which also said it had suspended additional accounts on Instagram with similar ties — could rekindle fears the Kremlin and its allies continue to hijack major social media platforms and seed toxic social and political conversations online.

When Facebook disclosed late Monday that it suspended 30 accounts on the site, along with 85 accounts on Instagram, a photo-sharing service it owns, for violating its policies against “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” it didn’t name the “foreign entities” behind them. It said U.S. law enforcement officials had alerted the company to the accounts.

But Facebook pledged to provide a later update if it discovered they had links to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin-aligned organization that sought to spread disinformation targeting millions of Americans on social media during the 2016 presidential election.

By election night, however, Facebook offered fresh details about its latest takedowns. “Last night, following a tip off from law enforcement, we blocked over 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts due to concerns that they were linked to the Russia-based [IRA] and engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior, which is banned from our services,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy.

Facebook also revealed Tuesday that a website “claiming to be associated with the IRA published a list of Instagram accounts they claim to have created,” and the company had taken down additional accounts as a result. Facebook did not specify a number of accounts.

“This is a timely reminder that these bad actors won’t give up — and why it’s so important we work with the US government and other technology companies to stay ahead,” Gleicher said.

Previously, the company said the accounts on Facebook had pages that appeared to post mostly in French and Russian, while on Instagram, the accounts mostly were in English. Facebook said that some of the accounts “focused on celebrities, others on political debates.”

Midterm election updates: Reaction and results

Democrats took the House, Republicans held the Senate, and key races around the country were still too close to call.

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