Facebook identified a range of fake accounts pushing information about American and Philippine politics and Chinese activity in the South China Sea. Though much of the activity outlined by China was centred on the Philippines, some was more directly relevant to American politics.
Facebook said it was removing the accounts for violating its policy against “inauthentic behaviour.” The activity was coordinated and originated in China, though Chinese officials, including the ambassador to the United States, have denied allegations they are seeking to influence the vote in November.
Facebook security first detected the new activity and shared the information with US government officials. US technology companies as well as intelligence agencies have shown more willingness this year to release information about foreign influence operations, having been criticised by lawmakers for being too cautious in 2016.
While the Chinese-created network gained more than 133,000 followers, Facebook said it had received little attention in the United States, with fewer than 3000 US-based accounts following it. The group posted information both for and against Trump and Biden.
“They were focused on driving division,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, the head of security at Facebook. “The engagement with the US was both nascent and limited. It was both supportive and critical of the major political candidates in the US.”
Facebook does not release the number of page views, or impressions, that various posts receive. However, based on how the site works, users would have been unlikely to see a post unless they followed the Chinese group or its pages.
Gleicher said that Facebook had detected no other Chinese activity on its platform.
The CIA assessment on Russia was disseminated in support of sanctions imposed this month on Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker who has spread information critical of former vice-president Joe Biden.
It is consistent with intelligence officials’ warning to lawmakers in January that Russia was interfering on Trump’s behalf, a briefing that outraged Republicans and eventually helped oust Joseph Maguire from his post as acting director of national intelligence.
The CIA has moderate confidence in its analysis, a lower degree of certainty than its 2016 assessment of Putin’s preferences, in part because the intelligence community appears to lack intercepted communications or other direct evidence confirming his direction of Derkach’s efforts. Putin, a former intelligence agent, is careful not to use electronic devices.
According to people familiar with the matter, the new analysis was published ahead of the sanctions in the CIA Worldwide Intelligence Review, a classified document that circulates to members of Congress and the Trump administration. The Washington Post earlier reported the assessment.
Putin’s direction, national security officials have said, should be of little surprise. Russia has become an authoritarian country under him, and little in its foreign affairs occurs without his knowledge or blessing, US officials have repeatedly said.
Russian efforts to influence US politics have continued steadily since 2016, even if the volume of disinformation has ebbed and flowed. But the CIA’s lower level of confidence in the new assessment allows Trump and his allies to treat the allegations of Putin’s involvement as unproven.
For years, many Republicans have taken issue with the CIA analysis of Russian interference. John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, who was an outspoken supporter of Trump while a member of Congress, and other Republicans have argued that Putin’s goal is to sow chaos, not to favor one candidate over another.
The key questions that US intelligence agencies have not answered are the extent of Russia’s effort and how open Putin wants to be about it.
New York Times