Just hours before the US mid-term elections opened, Facebook responded to a tip from law enforcement agencies and shut down 115 accounts that were behaving suspiciously, and potentially linked to a foreign entity.
In a statement posted on its website on Monday, Facebook explained that in the last year it has found and removed bad actors from the site on many occasions - based on its own internal investigations and information provided by law enforcement, and external experts.
On Sunday evening, the social networking giant said, it received information from US law enforcement about recently-discovered suspicious behaviour on the site, which the authorities may be linked to entities based overseas:
Our very early-stage investigation has so far identified around 30 Facebook accounts and 85 Instagram accounts that may be engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior. We immediately blocked these accounts and are now investigating them in more detail. Almost all the Facebook Pages associated with these accounts appear to be in the French or Russian languages, while the Instagram accounts seem to have mostly been in English — some were focused on celebrities, others political debate.
Facebook says that once it knows more, including if the accounts are linked to the troll-farmers of Russia’s Internet Research Agency (blamed for meddling in the 2016 US Presidential election) or other foreign entities - it will share an update.
There’s no doubt that Facebook and other social media can wield considerable influence over individuals, reinforcing points of view, spreading disinformation, inciting hate and fear.
As BBC News reports, just yesterday, in a separate announcement, Facebook acknowledged that it failed to prevent its site from being abused to “incite offline violence” in Myanmar, and in fact had provided an “enabling environment” for human rights abuse.
The United Nations warned that Facebook had a “determining role” in whipping up anger against the Rohingya minority, amid allegations of genocide.
In short, Facebook knows that it is being closely watched by a number of agencies around the world, and that if it acts too slowly to stamp out abusive behaviour on its service it will be in the firing line for even tougher questions in 2019 than it did in 2018.