Facebook removed several hundreds of pages and accounts originating in Russian that pretended to be pages from Eastern European countries. The sites were operated by employees from Sputnik.
Russia might be using its state-run media to create fake posts that appear to emanate from real newsrooms elsewhere, Facebook notes. The company dinged 364 pages and accounts from the Baltics, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and other countries in central and eastern Europe.
The groups responsible for the pages also spent $135,000 on ads, which were paid for in euros, rubles, and U.S. dollars. The ad buy represents the first big ad spend announcement the tech giant has made since first revealing bad actors purchasing ads in 2017.
Facebook also claimed its dinged pages from a separate campaign originating from Russia and Ukraine. The Silicon Valley company removed 26 pages, 77 accounts, and four groups on the platform, as well as 41 accounts on Instagram, another Facebook property. Those behind the campaign bought around $25,000 in ads on Facebook and Instagram that were paid for in rubles.
American intelligence officials have routinely warned social media companies and political campaigns about foreign interference, particularly in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. The Russian government was held responsible for spreading “fake news” to users on a variety of websites at the time.
Law-enforcement agencies have warned that Moscow has shown no signs of stopping its behavior.
Facebook, meanwhile, gave Congress roughly 3,000 ads in 2017 with links to Russia. The company said it sold $100,000 worth of ads to Russian-linked sources investigators believe were trying to sway the results of the 2016 election.
Conservatives are skeptical about the effectiveness of the campaign, because most of the ads did not focus on then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump or then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The ads also touched on highly contentious social issues, like race, gun rights, gay rights, and immigration, while steering clear of explicitly electoral matters.
Russian actors used an array of Instagram posts to suppress Democratic votes in the lead up to the election, cybersecurity firm New Knowledge (NK) noted in a December report to the Senate Intelligence Committee. The report suggests the Instagram tactic dwarfed the Facebook campaign by magnitudes.
The Internet Research Agency (IRA), the group originally responsible for the 2016 misinformation campaign, spread messages through YouTube, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and Google+, along with Facebook and Twitter. The black community was targeted “extensively with dozens” of Facebook pages and Instagram post, the report notes, according to NK.
NK has also found itself in trouble following reports that Democratic operatives associated with the group helped orchestrate a so-called false flag operation designed to influence Alabama’s 2018 special election.
Operatives reportedly created thousands of Twitter accounts posing as Russian bots to boost the election-year chances of Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. The accounts began following failed Republican senatorial candidate Moore’s Twitter account in October 2017.
Jonathon Morgan, one of NK’s founders, has repeatedly denied knowing about the ruse and claimed his group was merely conducting research. It is unclear what effect the evolving election-year misinformation campaign will have on the upcoming 2020 presidential election.
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