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Facebook shuts hundreds of Russia-linked pages, accounts

18 January 2019

Earlier in the day, Facebook said that it had shut down over 500 pages, groups and accounts that were allegedly involved in "coordinated inauthentic behavior" on Facebook and Instagram and represented a network reportedly originating in Russian Federation.

Facebook said that the pages violated its "coordinated inauthentic behavior" guidelines, which ban "multiple accounts working together" to "mislead people about the origin of content", though in numerous cases it appears that there was no attempt by pages to hide that they were sharing Sputnik content.

Sputnik's Armenia branch said on Facebook that its Russian-language page had been blocked and that as a result "our news in the Russian language will temporarily be published on the Armenian page". Sputnik criticized Facebook's takedown.

American intelligence officials routinely warned social media companies and political campaigns about foreign interference, particularly in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.

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Facebook and Twitter Inc took down millions of posts and shuttered accounts linked to influence operations by Russia, Iran and other actors in the run-up to United States mid-term elections in November.

The social network, in particular, claimed that Facebook pages which were thought to independently disseminate news or provide content of general interest to its subscribers "were linked to employees of Sputnik". The pages frequently posted about politically sensitive issues, including anti-NATO sentiment. The first ad ran in October 2013, and the most recent ad ran in January 2019. We identified some technical overlap with Russia-based activity we saw prior to the USA midterm elections, including behavior that shared characteristics with previous Internet Research Agency (IRA) activity.

"We're taking down these Pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they post", Gleicher said in the blog post.

"In these cases, the people behind this activity co-ordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action", he added.

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"Sputnik editorial offices deal with news and they do it well".

The sites were operated by employees from Sputnik. Its websites received 81 million visits in December, with 18 percent coming from Turkey and about 6 percent from the US, according to Similarweb.com. Those behind the campaign bought around $25,000 in ads on Facebook and Instagram that were paid for in rubles. It said it asked law enforcement and local governments to follow up on the investigations.

Russian operatives targeted the US presidential election in 2016, seeking to sow social and political unrest online.

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Facebook shuts hundreds of Russia-linked pages, accounts