by Countable | 1.17.19
Facebook said Thursday that it has removed hundreds of pages and accounts that pretended to be real news sites from places in Eastern Europe, but were actually operated by employees from Russian state-owned news company Sputnik.
Why it matters: The effort potentially shows a new tactic being used by Russia to weaponize misinformation — using its state-run media arm to create fake posts that look like they come from real newsrooms in vulnerable countries.
Details: In total, Facebook says it removed 364 pages and accounts from a network that originated in Russia and operated in parts of the former Soviet Union, like the Baltics, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and other countries in central and eastern Europe.
Between the lines: Facebook says the groups also spent $135,000 on ads, the first big ad spend announcement the tech giant has made since it first revealed bad actors bought ads on the platform in the fall of 2017.
Facebook also says, with a tip from law enforcement, that it removed accounts and pages from a separate campaign originating from Russia and Ukraine that used "coordinated misinformation tactics" on Facebook and Instagram. It says the two operations don't appear to be linked, despite using similar tactics.
The bigger picture: These announcements are becoming common from tech platforms, particularly Facebook and Instagram. Despite efforts to secure their platforms, Big Tech is still very vulnerable to attempts to manipulate users via organic and paid activity online.
Be smart: Facebook says it's removing these accounts, pages and posts based on their behavior, which is coordinated to make the impact of the content they post have a greater manipulative effect. The individual pieces of content on their own don't technically violate Facebook's rules, allowing the bad actors to avoid detection.
What's next: Expect congressional and advocacy outrage — and probably news of more activity. Facebook says it hasn't yet reviewed the organic activity linked to the accounts that bought the ads yet.
Written by Countable