Facebook uncovered and cut ties with hundreds of fake accounts tied to Russia that were engaging in inauthentic behavior, the tech giant announced Thursday.
The latest purge of fake accounts spreading disinformation comes as the Menlo Park, Calif. company has battled the perception that it's not acting fast enough more than two years after Moscow harnessed Facebook to sow discord and boost the candidacy of Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In October 2017, the tech giant admitted that up to 126 million Americans saw Russian-backed content over a two-year period. In December 2018, two major reports revealed a multifaceted, highly coordinated effort to divide the country and target the African-American community in the run-up to the presidential election.
"We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people," said Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, in a blog post. "We’re taking down these Pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they post."
The tech behemoth removed 364 Facebook Pages and accounts that originated in Russian but operated across the Baltics, Central Asia, the Caucasus and Central and Eastern Europe, for their coordinated inauthentic behavior. Facebook said the pages and accounts were linked to employees of Sputnik, a Moscow-based news agency considered by many to be a propaganda outlet, and that the posts were often about topics such as "anti-NATO sentiment, protest movements, and anti-corruption."
The pages had a total of about 790,000 followers, and about $135,000 was spent on ads on Facebook, paid for in U.S. dollars, euros and rubles. Beyond that, the pages hosted 190 events, dating back to August 2015 and up to this month, although Facebook said it could not confirm whether any of these offline events actually took place.
In a separate but related action, the Mark Zuckerberg-led company said it removed another set of Russia-backed Facebook and Instagram accounts that engaged in inauthentic behavior in Ukraine, some of which overlapped with Russia-based activity before the U.S. midterm elections. This group of pages had about 180,000 followers and more than 55,000 accounts followed one or more of the Instagram accounts.
The company shared its findings with U.S. law enforcement, the U.S. Congress and other technology companies.
"Our security efforts are ongoing to help us stay a step ahead and uncover this kind of abuse, particularly in light of important political moments and elections in Europe this year," Gleicher said.
In April, Facebook removed 200 other accounts and pages linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian firm that activated bots to spread misinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.