Facebook deletes accounts and pages of Trump ally Roger Stone
On Wednesday, Facebook Inc deleted 50 personal and professional accounts linked to U.S. President Donald Trump’s longtime advisor, Roger Stone, who is due to report to jail next week.
The social media site said Stone and his associates have used false accounts and followers to promote Stone ‘s books and tweets, including a prominent member of the right wing Proud Boys party in Stone’s home state of Florida.
On the same day, Facebook moved against Stone, shutting down accounts linked to Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro ‘s family employees and two other networks related to domestic political operations in Ecuador and the Ukraine.
Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, said the removals were intended to demonstrate that deliberately inflating political influence interaction should be prevented, irrespective of how good the practitioners linked.
“What they think does not matter and it does not matter who they are,” Gleicher told Reuters before the announcement. “We expect more political actors to cross the line and use orchestrated inauthentic actions to attempt to manipulate public discourse.”
Facebook authorities said Stone ‘s personal Facebook and Instagram accounts and Facebook’s Stone Cold Truth account, which had 141,000 followers, were taken down. A total of 54 Facebook accounts and 50 pages, including creating fake accounts, were removed for misbehaviour. In the past five years, the accounts have invested more than $300,000 on ads, Facebook said.
In Brazil, Facebook’s accusations add to a ongoing political crisis, where sons and allies of Bolsonaro have been charged with running a concerted propaganda campaign to discredit critics of the president.
The firm said it has found ties to the employees of two Brazilian politicians, as well as the president and his sons, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro and Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, following attempts to conceal who was behind the operation.
The allegations spurred a parliamentary inquiry and a separate investigation of the Supreme Court into so-called “false news attacks” on the judiciary of the nation, which led to police raids on Bolsonaro’s allies’ homes and offices in May.
Bolsonaro, who is also being blamed for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, said the investigation by the court is illegal and risks imposing censorship in Brazil by controlling online what people may say.
Some of those accounts posed as fake Brazilians and news outlets to spread Bolsonaro’s “hyper-partisan views” and attack his critics. Opposition politicians, former ministers and leaders of the Brazilian Supreme Court included their targets.
More recently, the accounts have also reinforced Bolsonaro ‘s arguments to exaggerate the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 66,000 people in Brazil have been killed by the disease and this week Bolsonaro himself tested positive.
Hundreds of advertisers have joined a boycott aimed at pressuring the company to censor hate speech on its platform and some employees walked out last month over the decision by Zuckerberg not to condemn Trump’s divisive tweets.
The removals risk further angering Trump and other critics accusing Facebook of undermining voices on the right. Last month, Facebook downplayed a Trump re-election ad that featured a Nazi symbol and promised to direct users to the truth about voting anytime Trump, or anyone else, touches on the issue.
Facebook is now under scrutiny from supporters of human rights and allied organisations and hundreds of advertisers have joined a boycott demanding that the company clamp down on hateful and abusive posts.
Last year Stone was arrested for interfering with witnesses and lying to Congress when he investigated Russian intervention in the 2016 election. Stone did not respond immediately to an email requesting comment.
He told the far-right Gateway Pundit website: “We revealed the railroad job that was so deep and so plain during my trial, that’s why they have to silence me. I can’t and won’t be silenced because they’ll soon know.”
In search warrant documents released this April, the FBI said a Stone assistant told interviewees in 2018 “that as part of this work he purchased a few hundred fake Facebook accounts.”
Facebook said the April quest documents affected its investigation. But the company said after a referral from a separate Facebook team monitoring dangerous organizations, which was tracking the Proud Boys, its unit guarding against coordinated inauthentic behavior had already looked into Stone’s pages.
Graphics analyst Ben Nimmo, a misinformation expert, said the Stone network was most involved in 2016 and 2017, spreading reports about the Democratic emails released by WikiLeaks as part of the Russian interference campaign.
According to Nimmo, many of the accounts have since been deleted, and in recent weeks they have mainly represented Stone ‘s search to seek pardon from Trump for his crimes.
“The inauthentic accounts, including his website, enhanced various Stone properties or promoted one of his books,” Nimmo said.
Stone has stepped up his attempts to get Trump’s pardon before going to prison where his family fears COVID-19 spreading. Trump said Stone was unfairly punished. US Attorney General William Barr tried to demand a lighter sentence, causing four career attorneys to withdraw from the trial.