Facebook removes 273 pages and accounts linked to Russian troll farm

4 Apr 2018168 Views

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Facebook app. Image: Allmy/Shutterstock

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Facebook security chief Alex Stamos announces clampdown on Internet Research Agency.

Facebook said it has suspended 138 Facebook pages, 65 Instagram accounts and 70 Facebook accounts controlled by the Internet Research Agency, a Russia-linked propaganda outfit.

Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos announced the news yesterday (3 April), adding that many of the pages also ran ads, which have been entirely removed.

Authenticity is a crucial pillar for Facebook

95pc of the pages were in Russian, targeting Russian-speakers around the world or Russian residents.

Stamos was keen to emphasise Facebook as a platform “built for conversation and human connection” and noted the importance of authenticity in communications at the company.

He said: “The IRA [Internet Research Agency] has repeatedly used complex networks of inauthentic accounts to deceive and manipulate people who use Facebook, including before, during and after the 2016 US presidential elections. It’s why we don’t want them on Facebook.

“We removed this latest set of pages and accounts solely because they were controlled by the IRA, not based on the content. This included commentary on domestic and international political issues, the promotion of Russian culture and tourism, as well as debate on more everyday issues.”

Stamos said that locating the pages took “months of work” by Facebook staff. The accounts had spent approximately $167,000 on ads since the beginning of 2015. Much of the content posted on the pages consisted of story requests or political jokes.

Repeated deception

Mark Zuckerberg wrote that the Internet Research Agency “has repeatedly acted deceptively and tried to manipulate people in the US, Europe and Russia. He added: “We don’t want them on Facebook anywhere in the world.”

Stamos said Facebook would remove every account linked to the Internet Research Agency in the future, as he believes the group is likely to try and evade detection in a number of ways. “We know that the IRA – and other bad actors seeking to abuse Facebook – are always changing their tactics to hide from our security team. We expect we will find more and, if we do, we will take them down, too.”

Zuckerberg added: “Security isn’t a problem you ever fully solve. Organisations like the IRA are sophisticated adversaries who are constantly evolving, but we’ll keep improving our techniques to stay ahead, especially when it comes to protecting the integrity of elections.”

GDPR and privacy

Zuckerberg also addressed the implementation of GDPR on a global level, something that many people have been asking questions about in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica furore.

He said to Reuters that Facebook was working on a version of the regulation that would operate on a global scale, but was reluctant to give details on omissions that may be made. “We’re still nailing down details on this but it should directionally be, in spirit, the whole thing.

“We think that this is a good opportunity to take that moment across the rest of the world.”

He added: “The vast majority of what is required here [for GDPR compliance] are things that we’ve already had for years across the world for everyone.”

Facebook app. Image: Allmy/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam is a writer covering all manner of business and tech subjects

editorial@siliconrepublic.com