Facebook kicked Roger Stone, the Donald Trump associate who faces prison time after being convicted of seven felonies, off Facebook and Instagram. The company said it had found evidence that Stone was behind a network of fake accounts in the U.S. designed make themselves appear “more popular than they were.”
The company said it “identified the full scope of this network” linked to “Stone and his associates” after the public release of search warrants and other documents from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which was the product of a lawsuit filed by media organizations.
“We’ve seen and taken action against domestic political figures using [coordinated inauthentic behavior] in the past, and we know they will continue to attempt to deceive and mislead people,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, wrote in a blog post announcing Stone’s ban.
Facebook took the actions the same day a report was released by civil-rights auditors — who were enlisted by the company to examine its business practices and policies — that criticized “the vexing and heartbreaking decisions Facebook has made that represent significant setbacks for civil rights.” The social-media giant also is in the midst of a 900-plus advertiser boycott, under the #StopHateForProfit campaign demanding Facebook take action against hate speech and discrimination.
Stone denied that he had a part in the disinformation network in a statement to the New York Times. “This extraordinary active censorship for which Facebook and Instagram give entirely fabricated reasons is part of a larger effort to censor supporters of the president, Republicans and conservatives on social media platforms,” Stone said. “The claim that I have utilized or control unauthorized or fake accounts on any platform is categorically and provably false.”
According to Facebook, the network linked to Stone comprised 54 Facebook accounts, 50 Facebook Pages, and four Instagram accounts. Those were involved in “coordinated inauthentic behavior in the United States.” The accounts were most active between 2015-17; most are now dormant and some have been permanently deleted by the users, Facebook said.
Participants in the network posed as residents of Florida to “post and comment on their own content to make it appear more popular than it is, evade enforcement, and manage Pages,” according to Facebook’s Gleicher.
Several of the accounts had links to far-right group the Proud Boys, a “hate group we banned in 2018,” according to Gleicher. In addition, some of the Facebook Pages appeared to have acquired followers from Pakistan and Egypt “to make themselves seem more popular than they were.” The account owners posted about “local politics in Florida, Roger Stone and his Pages, websites, books, and media appearances, a Florida land and water resources bill, the hacked materials released by Wikileaks ahead of the U.S. 2016 election, candidates in the 2016 primaries and general election, and the Roger Stone trial,” per Gleicher’s post.
The accounts in the Stone-affiliated network paid less than $308,000 for ads on Facebook and Instagram, according to Facebook.
Also Wednesday, Facebook said it removed three other networks — in Canada and Ecuador, Brazil and Ukraine — for violating its policy against foreign interference and coordinated inauthentic behavior.
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