Facebook said Tuesday it removed more than a dozen fake accounts and pages tied to an infamous Russia troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency in August that posted news stories. The network was on Facebook for about three months before the social media giant took down the fake accounts after receiving a tip from the FBI, a sign that the tech company and its partners are spotting Russian trolls quicker online.
Facebook removed 13 accounts and two pages linked to the Kremlin-backed Russian troll farm for misleading users about their identity and purpose. This network focused on the US, UK, Algeria and Egypt along with other countries where people speak English. About 5% of the English content targeted the US, posting news stories about the President Donald Trump, the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ campaign to defeat Trump. Some of the accounts used fake profile pictures to pose as news editors and duped freelance journalists into writing stories for their website, Facebook said. Roughly 14,000 accounts followed one of these two pages.
The Facebook page for Peace Data that described itself as a “global news organization” is no longer on the social network. More than 200 people followed this page. The Twitter account for Peace Data has also been suspended, but the website for the group is still online, highlighting the challenges that come with combating a network that relied on multiple internet platforms.
The Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency is known for using fake social media accounts to sow discord among Americans in the 2016 US presidential election. Revelations about this Russian troll farm didn’t surface until after the election was already over, sparking concerns about whether Facebook was doing enough to safeguard US elections. In March, Facebook and Twitter said it pulled down a network of Russian-linked fake accounts in Ghana that were created in 2019.
The Russian-linked network of accounts that Facebook pulled in August was still in its early stages before the FBI tipped the social network about their websites.
“These actors get caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, who heads Facebook’s cybersecurity policy, in a press conference. “They can run a large noisy network that gets caught quickly, or they can work very hard to hide themselves, still get caught, and not get a lot of attention.”
While these bad actors might use platforms that don’t crack down on fake accounts, Gleicher said that pulling down these accounts on Facebook limits their reach. Facebook is the world’s largest social network with more than 2.7 billion monthly active users.
Facebook also said Tuesday it removed more than 450 fake accounts that focused on Pakistan and India and more than 130 Facebook and Instagram accounts along with pages linked to a US communications firm that focused on Venezuela, Mexico and Bolivia.