Facebook boots Roger Stone from Instagram in crackdown on ‘inauthentic’ activity

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The Trump confidant had been using the platform recently to advocate for clemency in bid to avoid jailtime.

Roger Stone

President Donald Trump’s longtime confidant Roger Stone was booted from Instagram on Wednesday after Facebook determined he participated in an effort to spread “inauthentic” information — in some cases about his own criminal trial.

Stone, who is slated to go to prison next week, had been posting daily updates on Instagram about his efforts to stay out of jail and obtain a pardon from Trump. But late Wednesday, after Facebook’s announcement, his account was no longer available.

Facebook said Stone was tied to a network of deceptive accounts that posted about Florida and Stone himself, but did not provide further details on the posts’ content.

“The people behind this activity used fake accounts — some of which had already been detected and disabled by our automated systems — to pose as residents of Florida, post and comment on their own content to make it appear more popular than it is, evade enforcement, and manage Pages,” Facebook’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said in the company’s announcement of the move.

“Several of these Pages had links to Proud Boys, a hate group we banned in 2018. Some Pages appeared to have acquired followers from Pakistan and Egypt to make themselves seem more popular than they were.”

Facebook said the network that included Stone was “most active” from 2015 to 2017 and has been largely dormant since. But back then it regularly posted about local Florida politics and promoted Stone, as well as his books, websites and his media appearances. The pages also promoted Wikileaks releases of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton and her allies in late 2016.

The company said there were also posts about Stone’s trial. The two-week jury trial, which was scheduled by the judge in March 2019, began on Nov. 5 and ended with Stone’s conviction on Nov. 15 for repeatedly lying to congressional investigators pursuing allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Stone is due to report to prison to begin a 40-month sentence on July 14.

Stone fiercely rejected the contention that he had any involvement in a network of inauthentic accounts or posts on Facebook and Instagram.

“The claim that I have utilized or controlled unauthorized or fake accounts on any platform is categorically and provably false,” he said in a lengthy statement that also decried his treatment by the FBI, prosecutors, the judge and jury in his case. “I have never owned or controlled any fake Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts.”

“The assertion my accounts have any formal or informal connection to the Proud Boys is categorically and provably false,” Stone added. “The banning of individuals who may choose to repost things that I have posted is an even more extraordinary act of inappropriate censorship.”

Jacob Engels, a protégé of Stone’s, confirmed to POLITICO that his personal account and that of his Central Florida Post were also de-platformed by Facebook in the sweep. The Central Florida Post regularly promotes Stone and goes after his rivals in a voice and conspiratorial style reminiscent of him. Its featured story, posted on Monday, asks in a headline, “Did Roger Stone Threaten A Federal Judge?” The story makes clear that Engels believes the answer is no.

Stone’s removal was revealed as part of a broader removal of four separate networks of accounts “for violating our policy against foreign interference and coordinated inauthentic behavior.” The others included efforts in Canada and Ecuador, Ukraine and Brazil.

“In each case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts as a central part of their operations to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing,” Gleicher wrote.

Wednesday’s announcement is part of Facebook’s ongoing crackdown on networks of bots and fake accounts, which are prohibited under the social network’s policy against so-called coordinated inauthentic behavior. The company reported removing more than 50 such networks in 2019 that targeted countries in every major region of the world.

Hunting down these inauthentic actors took on greater significance in the wake of the 2016 presidential election after it was discovered that trolls tied to the Russian government spread scores of fake articles and politically divisive posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube in an effort to tip the race in Trump’s favor.

While Facebook has often relied on independent researchers to first identify malicious networks, it’s increasingly using artificial intelligence to track their behaviors and shut them down more quickly. It has also imposed tougher penalties on those who engage in government interference, including removing the accounts of all people and organizations tied to inauthentic networks.

The removal Wednesday of inauthentic accounts in the U.S. that sought to manipulate fellow citizens is indicative of the growing concern that domestic political players have adopted the online tactics foreign adversaries used in 2016. That poses a tricky problem for internet companies looking to root out disinformation without running afoul of acceptable political speech.

“Domestic campaigns like these raise a particularly complex challenge by blurring the line between healthy public debate and manipulation,” Gleicher wrote. “Our teams will continue to find, remove and expose these coordinated manipulation campaigns, but we know these threats extend beyond our platform and no single organization can tackle them alone.”

Marc Caputo contributed to this report.

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