In a blog post discussing the action, Facebook security policy head Nathaniel Gleicher said the accounts, some of which date back to 2018, were engaged in “election-focused behavior” in an attempt to manipulate public opinion.
Using “thinly veiled personas,” the accounts posted comments on pages belonging to popular news outlets, seeking to create the perception of widespread support for various, typically conservative causes.
“These comments included topics like trophy or sport hunting in the US and Kenya, the midterm elections in 2018, the 2020 presidential election, COVID-19, criticism of the Democratic party and presidential candidate Joe Biden, and praise of President Trump and the Republican party,” Gleicher said. Some of the accounts posed as left-leaning individuals in 2018.
Pages belonging to The Washington Post, The New York Times, Fox News, MSNBC and CNN received most of the accounts’ recent comments. Russian troll farms engaged in similar manipulative behavior on social media during the 2016 and 2018 election cycles.
About 373,000 accounts followed one or more of the fraudulent Facebook pages, with 22,000 people following one or more of the fake profiles on Instagram.
That reach wasn’t achieved organically. The group spent about $973,000 on ads across Facebook and Instagram to boost a mix of fake and real profiles.
Facebook said Thursday it has banned the U.S. marketing firm Rally Forge LLC from the platform, which it says was working on behalf of Turning Point USA and Inclusive Conservation Group, another nonprofit that was involved in the scheme.
Turning Point USA co-founder Charlie Kirk is among a vocal group of conservatives who have repeatedly accused Facebook, Google and Twitter of anti-conservative bias, even though publicly available data shows the opposite is true.
In a statement to HuffPost, Turning Point USA distanced itself from the activity and blamed Rally Forge and its sister organization, Turning Point Action. Unlike Turning Point USA, which is registered as a nonprofit, Turning Point Action is a 501(c)(4) and doesn’t have to disclose its donors. Kirk oversees both groups.
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