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Russia eyed after Facebook says it was used by 'malicious actors' during US presidential election

report released by Facebook this week "does not contradict" the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s assertion that Russia attempted to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

The Facebook report, released Thursday, describes so-called “information operations” whereby governments and “non-state actors” attempt to exploit the social network for propaganda purposes. “These operations can use a combination of methods, such as false news, disinformation, or networks of fake accounts aimed at manipulating public opinion,” it explained.

During the 2016 presidential election, the social network said that it responded to several situations that fit the pattern of information operations. “One aspect of this included malicious actors leveraging conventional and social media to share information stolen from other sources, such as email accounts, with the intent of harming the reputation of specific political targets,” the company said.

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The number of information operations during the presidential election was statistically very small compared to overall engagement on political issues, according to Facebook, which said that it could not make a “definitive attribution” about the sponsors behind the activity.

While the Facebook document does not identify Russia by name, it does acknowledge a report by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence that said Moscow attempted to influence last year’s election.  

“Our data does not contradict the attribution provided by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence in the report dated January 6, 2017,” explained Facebook, in its report.

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Facebook’s report is a notable step by the company. In November, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the idea that bogus information on Facebook influenced the U.S. presidential election was "pretty crazy." In December though, during a Facebook Live video chat with COO Sheryl Sandberg, Zuckerberg acknowledged Facebook does "a lot more than just distribute the news," and has become "an important part of the public discourse."

This week’s report also illustrates how the world's biggest social network has been forced to grapple with its outsized role in how the world communicates, for better or for worse.

In the report, Facebook said that it is taking a number of steps to tackle “malicious actors” such as constant monitoring, identifying fake accounts and expanding security and privacy settings. The company is also educating at risk people of the best ways to keep their information safe.

Facebook rolled out a series of features earlier this month to curb fake news.

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The Russian government has not yet commented on the Facebook report.

However, in a briefing last month Russia's Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova noted a growing number of fake Facebook accounts claiming to be Russian foreign missions. "Fake accounts created for our embassies in the Czech Republic and Slovakia published incendiary and misleading items on high-profile issues in the focus of users’ attention," she said. "We have noticed the extremely high professionalism of these fake accounts’ authors."

"Instead of blocking these fake accounts after our requests, the Facebook administrators and moderators blocked the official account of the Russian Embassy in Slovakia and preserved the fake account created by cybercriminals," she added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers