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Facebook Disrupts New Russian Disinformation Campaign

Facebook has removed hundreds of fake Pages and accounts after spotting a coordinated effort by Russian state-linked actors to spread disinformation in Ukraine and other former Soviet countries.

There were two linked campaigns: the first targeting Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia and Kyrgyzstan.

Although purporting to be independent or general interest Pages on topics ranging from weather and travel to politics, they were actually run by employees of Kremlin news agency Sputnik, according to Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher.

The 289 fake Pages and 75 spoof accounts posted disinformation on local corruption and protests, and anti-NATO sentiment, spending $135,000 on ads, hosting 190 events and attracting 790,000 followers.

Facebook also removed 107 Pages, Groups and accounts and 41 Instagram accounts for similar “coordinated inauthentic behavior” targeting Ukrainians. Account holders pretended to be regular Ukrainian netizens, attracting 180,000 followers and spending $25,000 on ads.

This campaign apparently shared similar characteristics to the disinformation blitz carried out by the Internet Research Agency (IRA) ahead of the US mid-terms last year and the 2016 presidential election.

“We’re taking down these Pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they post. In these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action,” said Gleicher.

“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.”

The accounts effectively promoted Sputnik content and that of its parent company, state-run Rossiya Segodnya, whilst hiding its true source. The effect was to increase Sputnik’s reach in the countries covered by 170%, according to the Digital Forensic Research Lab.

“Most posts were apolitical, but some, especially in the Baltic States, were sharply political, anti-Western, and anti-NATO,” the body said.

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