Facebook released today its latest report detailing disinformation campaigns operating on its massive social network, and this one came with a few surprises. In the new report, Facebook disclosed that it had removed a network of accounts linked to close Trump ally and former campaign advisor Roger Stone for “inauthentic” activity and coordinated fake accounts around the time of the 2016 presidential election. Facebook has since removed Stone’s own accounts from both Facebook and Instagram.
The accounts linked to Stone, who is set to go to prison next week, posted on a number of topics, mostly from 2015 to 2017, including Florida politics, WikiLeaks’ release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails, the 2016 races and Stone himself, “praising his political acumen, defending him against criminal charges.” Facebook removed 54 Facebook accounts, 50 Facebook pages and four Instagram accounts linked to Stone and his close associates. The network ran related accounts on Twitter and YouTube, as well.
Researchers at the social analytics firm Graphika dive into considerable detail in their own report on the newly unearthed campaign, which was discovered in connection with newly public search warrants from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Facebook also noted that some of the pages it removed had links to the Proud Boys, the extremist group Facebook eventually banned in 2018 after the group leveraged the platform to recruit and grow its ranks for months if not years. It began looking into the network of accounts through suspected activity by Proud Boys members seeking to return to the platform, uncovering the broader network after the search warrants came to light in April.
Last November, Stone was found guilty of seven felony charges, including making false statements to Congress, obstructing Congress and witness tampering. President Trump has hinted that he plans to pardon his longtime associate. Trump’s Attorney General William Barr created a firestorm of scrutiny earlier this year when he took the highly unusual step of intervening in order to reduce Stone’s sentence, presumably due to the president’s closeness with Stone.
Stone wasn’t the only high-profile political figure to be caught manipulating the social network. A parallel Facebook investigation into fake account networks in Brazil uncovered a cluster of accounts linked to the office of Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro and his sons, who had previously been investigated for running “a criminal fake news racket.”