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Facebook deletes hundreds of Russian troll pages

January 17, 2019

The US technology giant has shut down more than 360 pages and accounts, with some tied to an infamous troll farm. Under immense pressure, Facebook has started to target online influence operations and hate speech.

Facebook logo on a wall with the silhouette of a person underneath
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/T. Camus

Facebook on Thursday said it removed hundreds of pages and dozens of accounts for "coordinated inauthentic behavior" linking back to a Russian network operating in parts of Europe and central Asia.

From the US to Germany, the technology giant has come under immense pressure to combat so-called fake news, disinformation campaigns and hate speech on its platforms.

Read more: When social media inspires real life violence

Details about the pages and accounts:

  • At least 289 pages and 75 accounts were deleted on Facebook.
  • The accounts and pages were "linked to employees of Sputnik," a state-owned news agency based in Moscow.
  • They frequently posted about "topics like anti-NATO sentiment, protest movements and anti-corruption."
  • Some $135,000 was spent on Facebook ads "paid for in euros, rubles and US dollars."

Read more: Baltics battle Russia in online disinformation war

'Fake accounts'

Nathaniel Gleicher, who heads cybersecurity policy at Facebook, 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."
  • "While we are making progress rooting out this abuse, as we've said before, it's an ongoing challenge because the people responsible are determined and well funded."

Elections to come

Facebook has come under pressure from European authorities to deal with disinformation campaigns and hate speech on its platforms, most notably ahead of European Parliament elections slated for May.

European officials have described online influence campaigns as part of "Russia's military doctrine," which aims to "divide and weaken the West."

In December, Andrus Ansip, EU vice president for the digital single market, said authorities "have seen attempts to interfere in elections and referenda, with evidence pointing to Russia as a primary source of these campaigns."

On Wednesday, Facebook announced it would introduce additional protections concerning political advertising, including "transparency tools," ahead of major elections this year, including the European Parliament vote.

Read more: The EU in 2019: Challenges and crises await

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ls/rt (Reuters, AP, dpa)