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Facebook Removes Hundreds of Fake Accounts Linked to Russia’s State-Owned News Outlet Sputnik

by Countable | Updated on 1.25.19

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.

  • Facebook says the owners and operators of the accounts represented themselves as independent pages on topics like news, weather, sports and economics — or politicians from various countries.
  • Some of the pages frequently posted about anti-NATO and anti-corruption topics.

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 says the organizations paid for the ads, which started running in October 2013, in euros, rubles, and US dollars.
  • They also set up 190 real-world events scheduled between August 2015 and January 2019. Up to 1,200 people expressed interest in at least one of these events, though Facebook can't confirm if any events actually occurred.

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.

  • This campaign was smaller than the first. Facebook removed 26 pages, 77 accounts, and four groups on Facebook, as well as 41 accounts on Instagram. These actors also bought around $25,000 in ads on Facebook and Instagram that were paid for in rubles. The ads ran throughout 2018.

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.

  • The announcement also shows Facebook's willingness to get ahead of these problems before researchers or members of the press find them. The company was slow to remove and report manipulation on its platform after the 2016 election, suffering a huge PR hit as a result.

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.

Go deeper: The Russian social media disease spread beyond Facebook and Google

Countable

Written by Countable

Leave a comment
(36)
  • Dicr
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Too little too late. Like republicans in congress, just another organization selling out America and aiding our enemies for a buck.

    Like (16)
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  • JTJ
    Voted Apathetic
    01/17/2019
    ···

    If you get your news from Facebook, or countable for that matter, then you are an idiot.

    Like (12)
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  • Chickie
    Voted Happy
    01/17/2019
    ···

    It is certainly a plus that they have found a way to identify and remove those pages. FB, IG and any other social media sites are always a ‘user should always be cautious’ platforms. A new study revealed those over 65 years old and ultra conservatives shared an astounding (7) times more fake information masquerading as ‘real’ news than younger adults, moderate and super liberals during the 2016 elections. The question of the relevance of Social Media in our lives is a glaring issue in our elections. Are representatives who are running for re-election willing to address the significant problem of others influencing political outcomes or just let the dice roll where it may? Perhaps those seeking political office should start campaigning in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other large Russian cities? As impossible as it may sound, that is more or less what is happening in the virtual world of Social Media.

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  • Hulagurl1
    Voted Sad
    01/17/2019
    ···

    I’m sad because it is a little late don’t you think. It was their responsibility in the first place to protect Facebook and its users!!

    Like (2)
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  • Ken
    Voted Happy
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Wouldn't it be nice if everybody just played by the rules. This is why we have unions, OSHA, EPA, and so many other groups that fight for the rights of us to make a fair wage, work in a safe enviroment, breath clean air and have clean water. All of our safety mechanisms are to protect people including from our rogue government that is so inclined to overlook what's fair and right for americans in general.

    Like (8)
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  • Miles
    Voted Apathetic
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Maybe they should close their own site & Google too for (now proven) removing links to conservative stories, videos & websites. Won’t happen though because that’s against the liberal agenda. It’s funny to see people accuse others of the exact thing they’re doing. A true cry of desperation & shows the Democratic Party is declining fast.

    Like (7)
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  • Marylynn
    01/18/2019
    ···

    I thought this problem was supposed to have been taken care of two years ago... I'm so happy I'm not on FB or any other social media website.

    Like (2)
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  • Richard
    Voted Sad
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Corporate censorship can NEVER have a good ending. Today’s enemy is tomorrow’s friend. You could be next.

    Like (1)
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  • Ann
    Voted Happy
    01/17/2019
    ···

    It is important to recognize this shows Russian interference in our 2016 election. Keep pressure on to sanction Russian oligarchs.

    Like (7)
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  • Cyndi
    Voted Apathetic
    01/17/2019
    ···

    About Time Facebook!

    Like (4)
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  • Mark
    Voted Happy
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Who will the DNC collude with now?

    Like (3)
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  • Mary
    Voted Happy
    01/20/2019
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    I see a lot of comments on here which lead me to believe that the minority simply can't accept the fact they are a minority and are looking for a safe place to hide their heads in the sand. They accuse everybody, but Fox and Limbaugh of being biased and just can't accept the fact that the numbers are against them.

    Like (3)
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  • DrCindyBean
    Voted Apathetic
    01/17/2019
    ···

    This ongoing problem must be stopped. It’s just going to keep on spreading unless something is done to permanently stop it. Social media is a dangerous propaganda tool when nefarious actors are tolerated.

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  • Josh
    Voted Happy
    01/17/2019
    ···

    A lot too late un this case but glad they did something.

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  • Keri
    Voted Apathetic
    01/17/2019
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    They are just doing this now??? Lil late

    Like (1)
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  • Mark
    Voted Happy
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Facebook violates Americans privacy on the daily. The allow the dissemination of propaganda while undermining real factual news. It is certainly a step in the right direction, but frankly it is too little too late. Their company and their practices are reprehensible and they should face legal action and fines at a minimum.

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  • Sharon
    Voted Happy
    01/18/2019
    ···

    I’m happy they did that. Why not sooner? I expect they have algorithms to identify malicious sites, posts, and ads.

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  • Azrael
    Voted Happy
    01/18/2019
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    Do more

    Like (1)
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  • Bernie
    Voted Happy
    01/18/2019
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    Next up CNN.

    Like (1)
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  • Jon
    Voted Happy
    01/17/2019
    ···

    About time.

    Like (1)
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