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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Facebook said Tuesday it has identified a coordinated campaign of disinformation, with some content linked to contentious social issues, as the midterm elections approach.

Why it matters: Online interference in the 2016 election by Russian operatives wasn’t an isolated incident. Just three months ahead of mid-term elections, social networks and policymakers are trying to contain disinformation campaigns meant to divide and sway the American electorate, regardless of where it comes from.

The details: "About two weeks ago we identified the first of eight Pages and 17 profiles on Facebook, as well as seven Instagram accounts, that violate our ban on coordinated inauthentic behavior," said Nathaniel Gleicher, the company's head of cybersecurity policy, in a blog post. Those pages and accounts have been removed.

  • "In total, more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of these Pages, the earliest of which was created in March 2017," Gleicher said. "The latest was created in May 2018."
  • The New York Times was the first to report that the company had identified the operation.

What they're saying: Gleicher said Facebook has not attributed the campaign to a specific actor like Russia's Internet Research Agency, which was behind the 2016 campaign.

  • There are some similarities to what they say before and after the 2016 elections, and Facebook found evidence of some connections between recent accounts and IRA accounts that were disabled last year.
  • But there are also differences: "For example, while IP addresses are easy to spoof, the IRA accounts we disabled last year sometimes used Russian IP addresses. We haven’t seen those here," Gleicher said.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told reporters that the company is still investigating: "This is an early stage for us to be sharing this information because we don’t have perfect information."

The content included several related to divisive political issues.

  • One post released by Facebook was posted by a page called "Resisters" and featured an image of President Trump with the text: "If Trump wants to beat Barack Obama's Twitter record for most liked tweet he only needs to tweet 2 words 'I resign.'"
  • The same page also created an event for a counter-protest to the upcoming "“Unite the Right” rally in Washington. "Inauthentic admins of the 'Resisters' Page connected with admins from five legitimate Pages to co-host the event," said Gleicher.
  • Though the company released some sample posts from the pages, Facebook officials said on a call with reporters that it would not get into the broad details of the content — beyond what it had released publicly — but were working with researchers to evaluate it.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) blamed the campaign on Russia. "Today’s disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation, and I am glad that Facebook is taking some steps to pinpoint and address this activity," he said in a statement.

Go deeper

NRA files for bankruptcy, says it will reincorporate in Texas

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) speaks during CPAC in 2016. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The National Rifle Association said Friday it has filed for voluntary bankruptcy as part of a restructuring plan.

Driving the news: The gun rights group said it would reincorporate in Texas, calling New York, where it is currently registered, a "toxic political environment." Last year, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, alleging the group committed fraud by diverting roughly $64 million in charitable donations over three years to support reckless spending by its executives.

25 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden: "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution

Joe Biden. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden promised to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine manufacturing, as he outlined a five-point plan to administer 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations in the first months of his presidency.

Why it matters: With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention warning of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, Biden is trying to establish how he’ll approach the pandemic differently than President Trump.

A new Washington

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Image

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday that the city should expect a "new normal" for security — even after President-elect Biden's inauguration.

The state of play: Inaugurations are usually a point of celebration in D.C., but over 20,000 troops are now patrolling Washington streets in an unprecedented preparation for Biden's swearing-in on Jan. 20.