The Russian trolls have been busy.
Facebook said in a blog post published on Thursday that it removed more than 500 Facebook accounts, pages and Instagram profiles linked to Russia for “inauthentic coordinated behavior.” That means misrepresenting the true identity of accounts and using social networks to influence others.
The Russian news organizations linked to the state created the false accounts and operated between 2013 and the present, mainly in Eastern Europe, with a network of pages working specifically in Ukraine. Some of the networks used methods similar to the Internet Research Agency, the organization accused by US Special Advisor Robert Mueller II for attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election in the United States.
“Today we eliminated several pages, groups and accounts that participated in an inauthentic behavior coordinated on Facebook and Instagram,” wrote Facebook. “They used similar tactics creating networks of accounts to fool others into who they were and what they were doing.”
The Digital Forensic Research Laboratory (DFRLab) published an in-depth look at the open source data from the dismantling operation here. What is remarkable is that the group behind the pages operating in the states of the former Soviet Union (FSU) is linked to Sputnik, a branch of the news organization of the Russian state, Rossiya Segodnya. The Internet Research Agency, on the other hand, was not officially linked to the Russian government, although it did have deep links with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his administration.
Other experts point out on Twitter that Facebook’s actions now, in the accounts that have been operating since 2013, show both a misunderstanding of Russian priorities and negligence in the region.
THREAD! Today, Facebook announced the removal of HUNDREDS of fake accounts connected to the Russian state-funded propaganda arm Sputnik. The accounts posed as local news accounts and targeted users in Eurasia, with a large effort focused on #Ukraine. https://t.co/8DBwTkZbCo
— Nina Jankowicz (@wiczipedia) 17 January 2019
Since Facebook was attacked by the press and before Congress for its networks, including Instagram, being the chosen vehicle for Russian cyber espionage, it has been debugging false accounts. In October, it eliminated about 800 pages that falsified its identity operating in the United States.
The first network of accounts in the purge on Thursday operated in the countries of the Baltic, Central Asia, the Caucasus and Central and Eastern Europe. They disguised themselves as “general interest” profiles, like pages about sports or even about the weather. But they were linked to a state news agency in Moscow called Sputnik. And it published content that spreads “anti-NATO sentiment, protest movements and anti-corruption.”
The DFR laboratory characterizes the purpose of the pages as the dissemination of the scope and influence of Russia in these countries.
“In general, the main effect of the network was to promote the content of Rossiya Segodnya,” writes the DFR laboratory. “Its side effect was to amplify the Kremlin’s messages on certain political issues.”
Russian correspondent Andrew Roth explained on Twitter that Russian activities show how he maintains a continuing interest in the FSU states.
Important to note that these accounts don’t imitate people or social movements, like those produced by Internet Research Agency around the same time. They look more targeted at inflating traffic numbers. https://t.co/Vcke48sN4u
— Andrew Roth (@Andrew__Roth) 17 January 2019
The second network operated specifically in Ukraine, where Russia has been involved in a geopolitical conflict since it annexed the Ukrainian state of Crimea in 2014.
“The individuals behind these accounts were mainly represented as Ukrainians, and operated a variety of false accounts while sharing local news on a variety of topics, such as weather, protests, NATO and health conditions in schools,” he wrote. Facebook.
The first account network that operated in Europe and Asia did not use Instagram. The network that operates in Ukraine did it. Both spent money on advertising.
Facebook emphasized that its investigation to find and eliminate false activities on its platform is ongoing.
“While we are moving forward to eliminate this abuse, as we have said before, it is a continuous challenge because the responsible people are determined and well funded,” Facebook wrote.
To that end, the company says it is working with the government, journalists and researchers to do better. The problem is that it is only now solving a coordinated platform exploitation problem that has been going on for years.