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Facebook Removes 500 Pages for ‘Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior’ Linked to Russian Trolls

Social media giant pulls accounts believed to peddle fake news in Ukraine and eastern and central Europe with more than 1 million followers

Facebook has removed 500 account pages for engaging in what it called “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on the platform, the company announced on Thursday. The social media giant said that at least 364 of those pages had been positively traced back to the Russian news agency Sputnik and its employees.

“Today we removed 364 Facebook Pages and accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior as part of a network that originated in Russia and operated in the Baltics, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Central and Eastern European countries,” Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said in a press statement Thursday.

According to Facebook, all of the accounts in both operations were intended peddle fake news and sow divisions in their region of operation on hot-button issues. Combined they had attracted more than 1 million followers.

“We found that these Pages and accounts were linked to employees of Sputnik, a news agency based in Moscow, and that some of the Pages frequently posted about topics like anti-NATO sentiment, protest movements, and anti-corruption,” he added. “We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people.”

In a separate operation that the company said was based on an initial tip from U.S. law enforcement, Facebook also removed 107 Facebook pages and accounts, as well as 41 Instagram accounts, “for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior as part of a network that originated in Russia and operated in Ukraine.” The additional pages were not explicitly linked to Sputnik.

“The individuals behind these accounts primarily represented themselves as Ukrainian, and they operated a variety of fake accounts while sharing local Ukrainian news stories on a variety of topics, such as weather, protests, NATO, and health conditions at schools,” Gleicher said noting that the company had identified “some technical overlap with Russia-based activity we saw prior to the U.S. midterm elections.”

In a statement, Sputnik blasted the move by Facebook calling it “clearly political” and “practically censorship.”

“The decision is clearly political in its nature and, as a matter of fact, is practically censorship — seven [Facebook] pages belonging to our news hubs in neighboring countries have been blocked,” the news agency said. “Sputnik editorial offices deal with news and they do it well. If this blocking is Facebook’s only reaction to the quality of the media’s work, then we have no questions, everything is clear here. But there is still hope that common sense will prevail.”