Roger Stone and his associates were behind dozens of fake Facebook accounts that coordinated their activity and boosted his work and political priorities, Facebook said Wednesday — all at the same time Stone was under federal scrutiny for his alleged attempts to work with Wikileaks and boost Donald Trump ahead of the 2016 election.
The accounts, including Stone’s personal profiles, have been removed from Facebook.
Facebook said the full scope of the Stone network was only visible after the release of search warrants earlier this year from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian election meddling.
The warrants, released in April after a petition from several media organizations, showed Stone using a huge network of fake accounts to boost stolen Democratic emails published on Wikileaks.
Stone’s assistant told a Mueller investigator that he bought “a couple hundred fake Facebook accounts,” and that bloggers working for Stone sought to set up authentic-looking profiles to push the emails published by Wikileaks. Stone said in April that the released warrants “prove no crime.”
“The claim that I have utilized or control Unauthorized or fake accounts on any platform is Categorically and provably false,” Stone told The New York Times Wednesday, in response to the Facebook news.
Facebook said in a press release Wednesday that “some pages appeared to have acquired followers from Pakistan and Egypt to make themselves seem more popular than they were.”
The Stone network was faulted for breaking Facebook’s rule against “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” Facebook said. In all, the take-down affected 54 Facebook accounts, 50 Pages, and 4 Instagram accounts.
“The Page admins and account owners posted about local politics in Florida, Roger Stone and his Pages, websites, books, and media appearances, a Florida land and water resources bill, the hacked materials released by Wikileaks ahead of the US 2016 election, candidates in the 2016 primaries and general election, and the Roger Stone trial,” Facebook’s press release asserted.
The accounts were most active between 2015 and 2017 and since then the majority of them have been dormant.
Facebook said they discovered the network while investigating the Proud Boys, a right-wing “western chauvinist” group it banned from the platform in 2018. The group has vocally supported Stone for years.
Stone’s personal accounts were among those removed from Facebook and Instagram, Facebook’s head of security Nathaniel Gleicher told The Washington Post. A few days ago, Stone posted a meme on his Instagram page showing himself photo-shopped as the hero of the movie “300,” Spartan King Leonidas, and Judge Amy Berman Jackson as the Persian King Xerxes.
Stone is currently expected to report for his three-year prison sentence later this month after being found guilty last year on five counts of lying to Congress and one each of witness tampering and obstruction — though the sentence has already been delayed for weeks due to COVID-19. A career prosecutor who withdrew from Stone’s case, Aaron Zelinsky, alleged in congressional testimony last month that the DOJ’s recommended sentence for Stone was reduced as a direct result of political pressure.
This post has been updated.