Facebook finds hundreds more accounts run by Kremlin-linked troll group

James Marshall
April 4, 2018

The Facebook pages were followed by more than one million users and the group spent $167,000 running ads across the Facebook and Instagram accounts in question since January 1, 2015, Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos wrote in a blog post announcing the discovery and removal of the pages on Tuesday.

The world's largest social media company is under pressure to improve its handling of data after disclosing that information about 50 million Facebook users wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which worked on then-Republican candidate Donald Trump's campaign.

The company said most of the accounts and pages were in Russian and aimed at users in Russia and neighbouring or nearby countries, including Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.

The company said in an announcement late on April 3 that it has removed 70 Facebook accounts, 138 Facebook pages, and 65 Instagram accounts, 95 percent of which were in the Russian language.

Russian media organization RBC previous year reported that FAN and IRA once shared the same street address and had other connections.

In February, Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the election, indicted 13 Russians associated with the Internet Research Agency, including Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman with Kremlin ties who the indictment said controlled the Internet Research Agency and related businesses.

It took months for Facebook's team to uncover the connections, he said.

Russia has denied meddling in the election and Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will not extradite to the United States any of the individuals named in the Mueller indictment.

Samples of Facebook posts used on the social network by Russian troll farm, the Internet Research Agency.

Facebook's expanded campaign against what it sees as "bad" Russian actors could provoke a backlash from Russian regulators.

Last October, Google followed up on reported connections between FAN and IRA by removing FAN stories from its search index. Media regulator Roskomnadzor asked Google for an explanation, saying that it needed to protect free speech. Google then reinstated FAN, according to reports at the time.

Just days after the 2016 election, Zuckerberg said it was "pretty crazy" to believe that "fake news on Facebook...influenced the election in any way" only to later apologize for the comment. Critics largely pointed a finger at Facebook for failing to notify users of the incident and adequately protect their private data.

Companies have pulled out from advertising on Facebook.

This is part of Facebook's ongoing efforts to fight fake news and deceptive content.

Last summer, the company removed hundreds of pages and accounts run by the Internet Research Agency (IRA) that were created to look like they were run by real American activists.

Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he was pleased that Facebook had made its actions public.

Facebook is on track to bring that data to USA voters before congressional elections in November, Zuckerberg said on Tuesday.

In September, Facebook disclosed that it had discovered and taken down several hundreds fraudulent profiles and pages, a lot of them praising Donald Trump, denigrating Hillary Clinton or simply spreading inflammatory memes and comments on such divisive issues as race, immigration and guns.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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