Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) has announced the removal of hundreds of Russia-initiated accounts from its platform after the social network detected “coordinated inauthentic behavior” from them. The social media company wrote in a blog post that it had taken down about 364 Facebook pages and accounts active in multiple countries across Eastern Europe. More than 790,000 users followed at least one of the suspended pages.
In most of the cases, the pages taken down had misrepresented what they were or who had created them. Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said, “We’re taking down these Pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they post. In these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.”
Some of the pages Facebook took down had undisclosed links to employees of Sputnik, a Russian news website owned by Rossiya Segodnya, the Kremlin’s news agency. The pages, which operated between October 2013 and January 2019, targeted the Baltic Sea states, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and parts of Europe. The effort did not appear to target the United States.
Some of the pages taken down were accounts being represented as independent news pages that touched on regional weather and sports but were actually allowing Russian state-owned media to secretly reach social media users. According to Gleicher, “Some of the pages frequently posted about topics like anti-NATO sentiment, protest movements and anti-corruption.” Facebook disclosed that the pages spent $135,000 on ads, which were paid for in euros, rubles, and U.S. dollars. Facebook has been diligent about ferreting out misinformation campaigns on its platform after facing tough criticism that it did not do enough to stop Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential race. That disinformation campaign reached hundreds of millions of U.S. users on Facebook. In the run-up to mid-term elections last November, Facebook removed millions of posts and accounts linked to influence operations.