Nearly a million Facebook users followed these fake Russian accounts

Facebook removed more than 500 fake accounts from across Facebook and Instagram with Russian ties. On Thursday, January 17, Facebook axed 471 Facebook accounts and 41 Instagram pages for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” — or being dishonest about the origins and intent of the account. The accounts were part of two separate efforts, one linked to employees of the Russian news agency Sputnik and the other with behavior similar to the Internet Research Agency.

In the first group, the social media company removed 364 Pages and accounts. While the Pages typically said that they were independent news or general interest Pages, Facebook says the administrators and account owners had links to Sputnik employees, a news agency based in Moscow. Originating in Russia, the group operated in the Baltics, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Central and Eastern European countries.

Facebook says that some of those Pages shared posts on “anti-NATO sentiment, protest movements, and anti-corruption.” Around 790,000 Facebook users followed the accounts. Along with organic posts, the group spent around $135,000 in ads (paid in euros, rubles, and U.S. dollars), running between October 2013 and January 2019. The group also listed 190 events online, beginning in August 2015.

Facebook says they uncovered the fake accounts because of open-source reporting and Facebook partners.

In the second network of fake accounts, Facebook removed 107 Pages, Groups, and accounts along with 41 Instagram accounts. This group, Facebook says, also originated in Russia but operated largely in Ukraine. While the accounts posted Ukranian news stories, a tip from U.S. law enforcement launched Facebook’s investigation.

The network had a total of 26 Pages, 77 accounts, four groups, and 41 Instagram profiles. In total, the group had 180,000 followers on Facebook and 55,000 on Instagram. The group also spent $25,000 in ads, paid in rubles.

Facebook says that the second group exhibited behavior similar to the Internet Research Agency and the Russian-based activity during the U.S. midterm elections. Facebook has since removed groups of accounts with links to Russia on multiple occasions.

“While we are making progress rooting out this abuse, as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing challenge because the people responsible are determined and well funded,” wrote Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy. “We constantly have to improve to stay ahead. That means building better technology, hiring more people and working more closely with law enforcement, security experts and other companies. Their collaboration was critical to these investigations.”

Facebook is still continuing to review the non-ad content from these groups. The company says they will update users if they uncover additional details.

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