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Facebook removes dozens of pages; U.S. warns Russia still cybertargeting voters

The U.S. government separately warns that Russia continues to cybertarget American voters.

Facebook said Monday night that it had removed a network of more than 100 Facebook and Instagram pages that it indicated could have been trying to improperly influence the midterm elections on Tuesday.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook Inc.'s head of cybersecurity policy, said in a brief message posted to Facebook's investor relations portal that the company opened an investigation into the 115 or so pages after "U.S. law enforcement contacted us about online activity that they recently discovered and which they believe may be linked to foreign entities" on Sunday night.

Gleicher gave few details about the possible network, which he said "may be engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior."

Almost all of the approximately 30 Facebook pages appeared to be in French or Russian, while the 85 Instagram accounts appeared mostly to be in English, he said, some focused on celebrities, others on political debate.

While Gleicher didn't explicitly say the pages were believed to have been used to influence Tuesday's elections, his post was titled "Election Update," and he wrote that "given that we are only one day away from important elections in the U.S., we wanted to let people know about the action we've taken and the facts as we know them today."

He said Facebook would issue an update once it knew more, "including whether these accounts are linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency or other foreign entities."

Earlier Monday, the departments of Justice and Homeland Security, the FBI and the office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement warning that "Americans should be aware that foreign actors — and Russia in particular — continue to try to influence public sentiment and voter perceptions through actions intended to sow discord."

Among the tactics the agencies said the foreign actors use is "disseminating propaganda on social media."

Facebook has been under intense pressure from the U.S. and other governments to clean up the spread of false information and hate speech on its platforms. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said the company is doing its best to squash disinformation and hate speech, but critics contend that it is failing.

Last week, Facebook began taking down pages affiliated with the Proud Boys, a far-right organization whose members are accused of having been involved in a violent fight in New York last month.

In August, the company said it had removed more than 650 pages, groups and accounts on Facebook and Instagram, some of them originating in Russia and Iran, that it said were intended to mislead users in the United States.