Facebook bans over 200 new Russian accounts

Facebook bans over 200 new Russian accounts
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Facebook said on Tuesday that it removed over 200 accounts and pages linked to Russian trolls that had attempted to influence U.S. politics around the time of the 2016 election.

The company’s Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos said in a post that the company removed 70 Facebook and 65 Instagram accounts, as well as 138 Facebook pages linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Kremlin-linked troll farm whose top employees have been indicted by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE.

Stamos said 95 percent of the accounts that Facebook took down were in Russian and targeted at Russians or Russian speakers in nearby countries like Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.

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More than one million Facebook users followed at least one of the now deleted pages and 493,000 Instagram users followed at least one of the now deleted accounts. 

The pages and accounts collectively spent $167,000 on advertising since Jan. 1, 2015, according to numbers provided by Facebook.

Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergZuckerberg’s sister: Banning Holocaust deniers won’t ‘make them go away' Hillicon Valley: Officials pressed on Russian interference at security forum | FCC accuses Sinclair of deception | Microsoft reveals Russia tried to hack three 2018 candidates | Trump backs Google in fight with EU | Comcast gives up on Fox bid Facebook's Zuckerberg congratulated Trump after 2016 election: report MORE said that unlike other accounts and pages Facebook has found that were linked to the group, this batch was focused on domestic political influence.

''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," Zuckerberg said.
 

“Today’s disclosure of more IRA-linked accounts is evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division, spread disinformation, and influence political debates around the globe,” Warner said.

Pages and accounts set up by the troll farm regularly engage in misinformation campaigns, ranging from spreading potentially false memes to creating Facebook events. In one instance, thousands of people attended a rally in New York City created by the Kremlin-linked group protesting President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump warns Iran's Rouhani: Threaten us 'and you will suffer' Pompeo: Iran's leaders resemble the mafia NYT's Haberman: Trump 'often tells the truth' MORE’s election.

In February, Mueller indicted 13 individuals for interfering in the U.S. including some believed to be staff at the research agency.

Facebook has been dealing with substantial public criticism since it initially disclosed last year that the Russian troll farm had purchased $100,000 worth of ads in its platform. It has since released new information increasing the scope of money spent and reach of Russians on its platform.

Stamos's announcement comes amid vigorous scrutiny from lawmakers over how a British research firm used by the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, improperly harvested data from 50 million Facebook user accounts.

Multiple congressional committees have said that they will hold hearings on the matter, including two that have formally invited Zuckerberg to testify.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled the first hearing on the Cambridge Analytica breach for next Tuesday and has invited Zuckerberg along with Google and Twitter’s CEOs.

Zuckerberg is expected to appear before lawmakers, but has not publicly committed to attending any of the hearings yet.