Facebook said Wednesday that it pulled down a network of older fake accounts that were linked to Roger Stone, a former political adviser to President Donald Trump and a convicted felon, and his associates.
The social network removed 54 Facebook accounts, 50 pages and four Instagram accounts tied to Stone and his associates for violating its rules against misleading others about their identity and purpose. The accounts were most active between 2015 to 2017 and some had already been deleted.
Facebook discovered the older accounts while it was looking into the Proud Boys, a far-right men's group, and their attempt to return to the social network after they were barred from the platform in 2018. Stone, convicted last year in federal court of seven felonies, including obstructing a congressional investigation into Russia's 2016 election interference, has ties to the Proud Boys. Search warrants related to the congressional investigation included allegations that Stone had purchased hundreds of fake Facebook accounts.
In an interview with SiriusXM's Jim Norton & Sam Roberts Show on Thursday, Stone denied the allegations. "The charge that I owned hundreds of fake Facebook pages is categorically false. It's just not true," he said.
Facebook routinely pulls down networks of fake accounts, but it's unusual for the company to look at accounts that are no longer posting content. The move raises questions about what fake accounts Facebook might have missed in the past, but it also shows the company is thinking about ways people might try to get back onto the platform after they're booted from the social network.
"Their harm isn't ongoing, but it's important and we want people to understand what happened and we also recognize that they could reactivate at some point and so we wanted to remove these so that they didn't have that opportunity," Nathaniel Gleicher, who oversees cybersecurity policy at Facebook, said in a press call.
Stone's personal accounts and his "branded assets" will be taken down, Gleicher said. His Instagram account has already been removed.
Some of the fake accounts posed as Florida residents and posted about local politics, Stone's trial, 2016 US presidential candidates and Stone's Facebook Pages, websites, books and media appearances. Graphika, which analyzed the fake accounts tied to Stone, said the accounts "showed particular hostility" toward 2016 Democratic US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Gleicher said the network of older accounts predates his time at the company and the social network's policies against what's called "coordinated inauthentic behavior." Around 2016, he said, Facebook was focused on foreign interference in elections and the older fake accounts also tied to Stone didn't get a lot of engagement.
Some of the fake Facebook pages garnered a following from Pakistan and Egypt. About 260,000 accounts followed at least one of these fake Pages. Roughly 61,500 people followed at least one of these Instagram accounts.
Facebook also said Wednesday that it took down three other networks of fake accounts, including in Ukraine, Brazil, Canada and Ecuador.