Facebook has taken down domestic influence operations connected to two controversial right-wing figures: Roger Stone, a former adviser to President Donald Trump and convicted felon, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, the company said Wednesday.
The two operations were entirely distinct, but both used fake accounts to push hyper-partisan, conservative political news stories to domestic audiences. Neither Bolsanaro's office nor a lawyer for Stone responded to requests for comment.
The Brazilian operation was aligned with Bolsanaro's Social Liberal Party and created “fictitious personas posing as reporters,” posting content from fictional news outlets. It was operated in part by employees who worked for Bolsonaro and two of his sons, Eduardo and Flavio, who are members of Brazil's legislature, Facebook said. Its accounts had significant followings: 883,000 Facebook accounts followed at least one of their pages, and nearly a million followed at least one of its associated Instagram accounts.
An investigation into the network by the Atlantic Council's DRF Lab, a think tank that studies disinformation, found ties to a third Bolsanaro son, Rio de Janeiro councilmember Carlos Bolsonaro.
Though the Stone-associated network was primarily active in 2016 and 2017, it still had a significant presence, with more than 100 Facebook accounts and pages and 260,000 followers. It appears to have largely been built to boost online perception of Stone himself, according to a report by the social media analytics firm Graphika.
“Much of the network’s content focused on Roger Stone, praising his political acumen, defending him against criminal charges, and demanding that he be pardoned after he was found guilty of those charges in November 2019,” Graphika found.
According to warrants from the Justice Department's 2017 investigation of Stone, a witness whose name was redacted claimed that “Stone utilized the services of several individuals to post social media content to Facebook and Twitter.” The witness stated “that he had purchased a couple hundred fake Facebook accounts as part of this work (including both new and existing accounts), and that bloggers working for Stone would try to build what looked like real Facebook accounts.”