Facebook says it found fake pages and accounts run by employees at Russian state-owned news agency Sputnik

Mark ZuckerbergMark Zuckerberg's had a rocky 2018.REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

  • Facebook removed almost 500 pages, accounts, and ads across its core service and Instagram that were connected to Russia and involved in 'inauthentic' behaviour.
  • It uncovered two campaigns, one focused on Ukraine, and the other more widely across Eastern Europe.
  • The social network found employees of Russian state-owned news agency Sputnik had created pages purporting to be independent news sites and general interest pages about the weather or politics.
  • The company has been trying to clean up its act after online Russian interference during the 2016 US election.

Facebook said on Thursday it has removed hundreds of pages, accounts and groups that were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram.

The social network said it found two separate campaigns originating in Russia, with one active in multiple countries and the other specific to Ukraine.

"We didn't find any links between these operations, but they used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing," the company said.

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For the multi-country campaign, the company found some users were representing themselves as independent news sources, or even general interest pages about the weather, travel, sports, or politics in the Baltic region.

Some of those pages and accounts were run by employees of Russia's state-owned news agency Sputnik, Facebook said.

"Despite their misrepresentations of their identities, we found that these Pages and accounts were linked to employees of Sputnik, a news agency based in Moscow, and that some of the Pages frequently posted about topics like anti-NATO sentiment, protest movements, and anti-corruption," the company wrote.

The issue wasn't necessarily the content, Facebook said, but the fact the people behind the pages didn't disclose who they really were.

Facebook removed 289 pages and 75 accounts, which had racked up 790,000 followers collectively. The company said around $135,000 was spent on ads relating to the campaign, starting from January 2013.

The second, Ukraine-focused campaign saw a network of users originating in Russia but posing as Ukrainians. Facebook said it saw similarities with activity by the Internet Research Agency, Russia's misinformation agency which was indicted in the US for allegedy meddling in the November midterms.

Facebook removed 26 pages, 77 accounts, four groups, and 41 Instagram accounts for this campaign.

The social network has been stepping up its efforts to fight misinformation spread on its platform via fake pages and accounts. The company came under fire from the US and other global governments for permitting foreign interference in elections, and has forged relationships with academia and factcheckers to try and clean up its act.

The company wrote: "Our security efforts are ongoing to help us stay a step ahead and uncover this kind of abuse, particularly in light of important political moments and elections in Europe this year. We are committed to making improvements and building stronger partnerships around the world to more effectively detect and stop this activity."

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