Facebook has closed hundreds of accounts and pages linked to Russia, due to "coordinated inauthentic behavior" or disinformation operations.
Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, wrote in a blog today that the shuttered pages and accounts (on both Facebook and Instagram) represent two unrelated disinformation networks. One operation targeted Ukraine, and the other covered Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltics, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.
US law enforcement tipped off Facebook to the network that focused on Ukraine, which spent $25,000 on Facebook ads last year. The network exhibited some "technical overlap with Russia-based activity we saw prior to the US midterm elections," wrote Gleicher, and similar behavior to that of the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm indicted by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller for interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Facebook shut 107 groups, pages, and accounts (with about 180,000 total followers) and 41 Instagram accounts (55,000 followers) associated with this operation.
The other network was a content amplification program for a Russian state-sponsored media organization.
As described by the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensics Research Lab (DFRLab) in an extensive report:
The pages masqueraded as groups with special interests — ranging from food to support for authoritarian presidents — and amplified content from the Kremlin’s media agency, Rossiya Segodnya, especially that of its subordinate online news outlet Sputnik.
The nature of the activity varied. The Sputnik editors acknowledged that Sputnik ran certain pages in Latvia, but at the other end, "a sub-group of nine pages in Georgia was run by an account that appeared to be actively fraudulent" and purchased ads specifically to promote Rossiya Segodnya content, DFRLab wrote. "Most of the pages in the network were covert, in that they did not mention a connection to Rossiya Segodnya and also did not claim any other specific identity."
According to Gleicher, Facebook has thus shut 75 accounts and closed 289 pages, representing 790,000 followers and $135,000 in advertising.
"The decision is clearly political. This is tantamount to censorship," said Sputnik in a statement to the Associated Press.
In a statement to Dark Reading, a Facebook representative said, "As Nathaniel mentioned in his post today, we've taken 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."