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Facebook has deleted 70 user accounts and 138 pages, as well as 65 Instagram accounts it says were controlled by a Kremlin-funded network specializing in fake news, the company announced Tuesday.
The pages were linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm known for pushing ads aimed at American voters with divisive messages about social and political issues during the 2016 election cycle.
However, according to Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamo, the latest batch of IRA-created accounts and pages were intended for a more home-grown audience. The vast majority of the deleted pages — 95 percent — were in Russian and intended to for Russian-speaking users around the world, Stamos explained in a blog post.
“We removed this latest set of Pages and accounts solely because they were controlled by the IRA — not based on the content,” Stamos wrote. “This included commentary on domestic and international political issues, the promotion of Russian culture and tourism as well as debate on more everyday issues.” Stamos.
Around 1.08 million unique users followed at least one of the deleted Facebook accounts, while 493K unique users followed at least one of the Instagram accounts.
“Most of our actions against the IRA to date have been to prevent them from interfering in foreign elections. This update is about taking down their pages targeting people living in Russia,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a separate post. “This Russian agency has repeatedly acted deceptively and tried to manipulate people in the US, Europe, and Russia — and we don’t want them on Facebook anywhere in the world.”
Facebook has been heavily criticized for its slow response to the IRA’s activities before and after the 2016 election. Notably, Zuckerberg was initially dismissive of the claim that the company’s ads played a role in the election. However, he eventually changed his tune, saying last fall he was “dead serious” about the issue.
The company has since added thousands of content moderators and beefed up tools to weed out troll content in the aftermath and according to Zuckerberg, will release a tool within the “next few weeks” that allows users to check if they’ve followed IRA-linked pages.
The company had initially planned on releasing that tool by the end of 2017.