It took Facebook "months" to identify Internet Research Agency activity on the website.
Image: Flickr/JD Lasica
Hundreds of Kremlin-linked Facebook accounts and pages, controlled by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), were deleted by the company today. In total, 70 Facebook, 65 Instagram accounts, and 138 Facebook Pages were removed, according to Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos.
Many of the Facebook pages ran ads on the platform, Stamos said. The pages spent $167,000 on ads since January 1, 2015 and targeted Russian speakers, and people living in Russia or nearby countries—95 percent of the pages with content were in Russian. It took several months for Facebook to identify these accounts and pages, which were ultimately deleted because they were IRA-controlled, Stamos wrote.
Facebook included screenshots of sample posts and ads these accounts shared. An ad belonging to a page called “Politikach” contained a photo of Vladimir Putin, with the text, “Let’s drink to politics.” Another ad, belonging to the page “Elite Theory” contained the text, “Tell us what strange or scary things have happened to you in the last year? Put a ‘like’ next to the craziest stories.”
Approximately 1.08 million Facebook users followed at least one of the 138 pages that were removed. And 493,000 users followed at least one of the Instagram accounts also taken down today.
“The IRA has repeatedly used complex networks of inauthentic accounts to deceive and manipulate people who use Facebook, including before, during and after the 2016 US presidential elections,” Stamos said. “It’s why we don’t want them on Facebook.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called it “an important step to protect the integrity of elections around the world,” in a blog post today. “In the next few weeks, we'll release a tool so you can check if you liked or followed an IRA-controlled account.”
The news follows revelations about data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica influencing the United States presidential election, partly through harvesting the personal information of 50 million Facebook users, and discussions with Zuckerberg about how Facebook should be regulated in the future.
“Security,” Zuckerberg claimed today, “isn’t ever a problem you ever fully solve.”