Facebook on Wednesday said it was removing the personal accounts of Roger J. Stone Jr., President Trump’s friend and ally, because they had ties to numerous fake accounts that were active around the 2016 presidential election.
The company made the announcement as part of its monthly report on removing disinformation. Mr. Stone’s personal accounts on Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, were entwined with a U.S.-based network of accounts that had links to the Proud Boys, a group that promotes white supremacy, the company said. The social network banned the Proud Boys group in 2018.
“We first started looking into this network as part of our investigation into the Proud Boys’ attempt to return to Facebook after we had designated and banned them from the platform,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, wrote in a company blog post announcing Facebook’s takedown. “Our investigation linked this network to Roger Stone and his associates.”
Mr. Stone, 67, is set to go to prison this month. In November, a jury convicted him on seven felonies, including lying to federal investigators, tampering with a witness and impeding a congressional inquiry. The charges were brought by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, whose investigators scrutinized Mr. Stone’s attempts during the 2016 presidential election to communicate with WikiLeaks about the release of Democratic emails that had been stolen by Russian operatives.
In a statement, Mr. Stone denied overseeing fake accounts on Facebook or Instagram. “This extraordinary active censorship for which Facebook and Instagram give entirely fabricated reasons,” he said, “is part of a larger effort to censor supporters of the president, Republicans and conservatives on social media platforms. The claim that I have utilized or control unauthorized or fake accounts on any platform is categorically and provably false.”
This is not the first time that Mr. Stone has been kicked off a major social media platform. In October 2017, Mr. Stone was suspended from Twitter after insulting several CNN news anchors and contributors. In July 2019, the federal judge overseeing the case brought by Mr. Mueller ordered Mr. Stone off major social media platforms. The judge said Mr. Stone had violated a gag order by using them to attack the special counsel’s investigation and officials tied to it.
Mr. Stone’s accounts were part of the 54 Facebook accounts, 50 pages and four Instagram accounts that Facebook said were associated with the Proud Boys network. The network, the company said, was most active in 2016 and 2017, during the run-up to the United States presidential election and immediately after. A few accounts were still active into 2020, posting primarily about Mr. Stone’s court case and judgment according to Graphika, a company that specializes in analyzing social media, which released a report about Facebook’s Wednesday takedown.
Many of the accounts that Facebook removed used fake personas, stole pictures of people around the internet and published posts promoting Mr. Stone, according to Graphika’s analysis. The accounts publicized his books in 2016, and pushed for his legal defenses in 2019 and appeals for a pardon in 2020.
The accounts also posted hostile criticism of Hillary Clinton, especially in the lead-up to the 2016 election, Graphika said, and engaged in coordinated harassment against a judge who had temporarily blocked Mr. Trump’s executive order barring citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
Facebook said it had identified the full scope of the network after hundreds of pages of search warrants and affidavits were released in response to a lawsuit filed by The New York Times and other news media organizations.
The social network said it also took down 35 Facebook accounts, 14 pages, one group and 38 Instagram accounts involved in a domestic disinformation campaign in Brazil, which were linked to “some of the employees of the offices” of President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and two of his sons, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro and Senator Flávio Bolsonaro. It was not clear whether Brazil’s president had any direct role in those accounts.
“This shows that coordinated inauthentic behavior can turn up in many places, even the offices of high-profile politicians,” said Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at Graphika. “It also shows that there’s a whole community out there hunting for this kind of operation. It’s a brain race between the influence operations and the people who hunt them, and every takedown teaches us a little more.”