January 21, 2019
Facebook deleted nearly 500 pages and accounts after discovering two disinformation campaigns linked to Russia. Employees of Sputnik, a Russian government-controlled agency, were linked to many of the pages that use innocuous independent news pages on sports, travel and weather to mask their disinformation. The pages, which were targeted largely at users in Europe and Central Asia, make clear that Russian-government linked groups continue their efforts to use Facebook as a means of spreading misinformation.
The New York Times reports that, “the discovery provides another glimpse of the manipulative tactics used by groups to promote their articles, videos, groups and other content on Facebook.”
“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,” wrote Facebook head of cybersecurity Nathaniel Gleicher in a blog post. According to Facebook, it deleted 289 pages and 75 accounts linked to “one of the campaigns [that] had targeted people in 13 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.”
The fake pages organized 190 events, with 1,200 people expressing interest in attending, and “about 790,000 users follow[ing] one or more of the pages.” Facebook did not know if any of the events actually took place.
Facebook also “shared information about the investigation with United States authorities, Congress, other technology companies and policymakers in the targeted countries.” At Washington think tank Atlantic Council, research fellow Ben Nimmo said that Facebook’s move is significant because, “this is the first time we’ve seen a takedown of this scale linked directly to the national propaganda channel.”
Nimmo, who is part of the Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, also noted that, “this is the first time we’ve had something that was so directly traced back to Sputnik itself.”
An article from RIA Novosti, another Russian government propaganda outlet, reported that Sputnik cried “censorship” at the takedown, saying that, “Sputnik is dealing with news.” In August, “Facebook also removed 652 fake accounts, pages and groups originating in Russia and Iran that were trying to spread misinformation.”
“Get used to this,” said Nimmo. “It’s not just Facebook. It’s going to be all the platforms. This is the new normal.”
Stung by Criticism, Facebook’s Sandberg Outlines New Plans to Tackle Misinformation, TechCrunch, 1/20/19