By Dustin Volz 

Facebook Inc. said it removed a network of accounts with links to a U.S. conservative political youth group for posing as fake users to praise President Trump and criticize his Democratic rival, Joe Biden.

The social-media giant's move is among a number of steps it has taken in recent weeks to curb misinformation on the platform and one of its most high-profile actions against a domestic political operator.

The company said Thursday it had removed 200 Facebook accounts, 55 Facebook pages and 76 Instagram accounts that were run by Rally Forge, a U.S. marketing firm, for violating rules against "coordinated inauthentic behavior." Rally Forge, which Facebook said was now banned, was working on behalf of two clients, including Turning Point USA, a Phoenix-based conservative youth organization.

Turning Point USA was founded by Charlie Kirk, a prominent conservative activist and staunch Trump supporter who spoke at the Republican National Convention in August.

The social-media campaign, which dated back to 2018 and saw resurgent activity in June of this year, included using fake accounts that posed as politically conservative people in the U.S. to comment on content shared by others, Facebook said. In 2018 the operation also included posing as left-leaning individuals, the company said.

About 373,000 accounts followed one or more of the Facebook pages and 22,000 followed one or more of the Instagram accounts, and Rally Forge spent $973,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads connected to both authentic and inauthentic accounts that were removed, Facebook said.

The topics of focus included the presidential race, the 2018 midterm elections and the coronavirus. Facebook identified the operation as posting frequent recent comments on pages run by major media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and Fox News.

Facebook said the campaign deployed thinly veiled personas in which the account names used were slight variations of the real names of individuals operating them.

Turning Point USA and Rally Forge didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Turning Point USA has previously denied being connected to activity on social media that doesn't represent authentic political activism.

Write to Dustin Volz at dustin.volz@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 08, 2020 12:41 ET (16:41 GMT)

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