The FINANCIAL — Facebook says it has deleted dozens of pages linked to a Russian “troll factory” that was indicted in the United States for political activities aimed at influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The company said in an announcement late on April 3 that it had removed 70 Facebook accounts, 138 Facebook pages, and 65 Instagram accounts, 95 percent of which were in the Russian language, according to RFE/RL.
It said the deleted accounts and pages had 1 million followers on Facebook and 500,000 on Instagram, mainly in Russia, Ukraine, and nearby countries such as Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.
The pages deleted discussed domestic and international political issues, promoted Russian culture and tourism, and touched on “more everyday issues,” Facebook said, providing samples of the deleted pages in its announcement.
The network said many of the deleted articles and pages were posted by the Russian-based Federal News Agency, known as FAN, which it said appears to be connected to a St. Petersburg “troll factory” known as the Internet Research Agency or IRA, which was indicted by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller in February.
Russian media organization RBC last year reported that FAN and IRA once shared the same street address and had other connections. One of the people that it said made decisions at FAN was named in the Mueller indictment.
Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg told Reuters in an interview that FAN “has repeatedly acted to deceive people and manipulate people around the world, and we don’t want them on Facebook anywhere.”
He added that it was clear that FAN and other actors targeted by Facebook’s latest round of deletions were “controlled and operated” by IRA.
Under a new policy, Facebook said it would take down all postings that are spread by what it sees as “bad actors,” even if the postings themselves seem harmless.
The St. Petersburg troll factory IRA was among three firms and 13 Russians indicted on charges they conspired to meddle in the 2016 election by spreading posts that supported U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign while disparaging his opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Russia has denied meddling in the election and Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would not extradite to the United States any of the individuals named in the Mueller indictment.
Facebook said it is rooting out anything on its networks connected to IRA, which it said sponsored pages during the 2016 election on hot-button U.S. political topics, such as immigration, border security, and police violence, taking a generally pro-Trump stance.
“The IRA has consistently used inauthentic accounts to deceive and manipulate people. It’s why we remove every account we find that is linked to the organization — whether linked to activity in the U.S., Russia, or elsewhere,” Facebook said.
Facebook first disclosed in September that Russians used its networks to try to meddle in U.S. politics, using false names to spread posts both before and after the 2016 elections.
Facebook’s expanded campaign against what it sees as “bad” Russian actors could provoke a backlash from Russian regulators.
In October, Google announced that it was removing FAN stories from its search index. Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor asked Google for an explanation, saying that it needed to protect free speech. Google later reinstated FAN, reports said at the time.
With reporting by Reuters