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When you have well over two billion monthly active users like Facebook does, purging bad actors from your social network isn't something that you'll need to do only once. It's simply too big of an idea marketplace to ignore, so it will constantly be a target. So in the wake of Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal, the company has continued to scrub and scrape deeper into the fake news networks that have been constructed by Kremlin-backed entities.

This week, Facebook announced that it's identified and dismantled another Russian government disinformation campaign, though it prefers to define the problem as "coordinated inauthentic behavior."

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In the announcement, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said that the company had removed 289 pages and 75 accounts; these pages were followed by a total of 790,000 other accounts, and they spent "around" $135,000 on advertising before they were shut down.

Based on the screenshots of the pages provided by Facebook, none of these Pages were targeting English-speaking users. Instead, they were targeting Russia, Romania, Armenia and a host of central Asian countries that were part of the former Soviet Union.

Gleicher adds, "Despite their misrepresentations of their identities, we found that these Pages and accounts were linked to employees of Sputnik," which he curiously describes as merely "a news agency based in Moscow."

Sputnik is in fact the fully avowed media arm of the Kremlin, with numerous documented cases of fabricated stories, invented quotes and anti-democratic statements. Because of its suspicious behavioral pattern, Twitter banned Sputnik from advertising on its platform in October 2017, and Google announced the following month that it would be de-ranking Sputnik on its search results pages.

According to US intelligence, Sputnik was directly involved in Russia's interference with the 2016 presidential election.

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Despite the source of this disinformation, Gleicher claims that the actual content of this fake news syndicate was not the main concern. Instead, it was the page creators that caught Facebook's eye; the social network determined that these were all false identities, which is a violation of its terms of service.

Gleicher also mentions a separate cleanup of 107 pages and 41 Instagram accounts, "based on an initial tip from US law enforcement." This group presented itself as Ukrainians discussing local issues, but Facebook determined that this entire collection of pages was operated by Russian operatives.

Gleicher says, "We identified some technical overlap with Russia-based activity we saw prior to the US midterm elections, including behavior that shared characteristics with previous Internet Research Agency (IRA) activity."

Gleicher notes, "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." But given that Facebook, Twitter and other social networks have been credibly accused of exploiting psychological tricks to keep people hooked on their services, some may find this statement ironic.

Gleicher may also want to look into the matter of Facebook employees apparently piling on 5-star Amazon reviews for the company's Portal smart display, as such activities appear check his boxes for "coordinated" and "inauthentic." (Download the Amazon app for Android or iOS).

Takeaways

  • Facebook announced that it's removed several hundred pages that it identified as originating from Russia and engaging in "coordinated inauthentic behavior" involving Sputnik, the official media arm of the Kremlin.
  • US intelligence believes that Sputnik was directly involved in Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, but Facebook claims that these pages and their associated accounts were removed because their identities were false, not because of page content.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.