Facebook Removes Accounts Linked to Russian ‘Troll Factory’

Three top Facebook executives described In separate posts on Tuesday the company’s latest efforts to protect the integrity of elections around the world by removing accounts, ads and other content generated by the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), The New York Times reported.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post-Tuesday the actions were meant to help Russians.

“Most of our actions against the IRA to date have been to prevent them from interfering in foreign elections,” Zuckerberg said. “This update is about taking down their pages targeting people living in Russia.”

The company shared both stats about the account deletions and samples of the content they shared.

Chief security officer Alex Stamos wrote that 70 Facebook accounts, 65 Instagram accounts and 138 Facebook Pages linked to the IRA would be scrubbed from the company’s platforms.  The “vast majority” (95 percent) of the content was written in Russian, Stamos said and targeted audiences in Russia or in neighboring, former Soviet countries. In total, roughly 1.5 million unique users followed at least one of the purged accounts, according to Stamos’ post.

In recent months, the IRA garnered intense scrutiny after media reports and assessments by the U.S. intelligence community revealed how professional trolls at the Kremlin-linked company sought to sow discord and disinformation via online influence operations during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Facebook’s move follows a previous purge in September of 470 IRA accounts and pages that the company deemed “inauthentic” and said were designed to spread divisive content.

In this instance, it was purely the accounts’ association with the IRA, and not their content, that prompted their removal. Zuckerberg said that while the company respects “people and governments sharing political views on Facebook,” it would remove the pages of any organization that attempted repeatedly to set up fake accounts intended to mislead users.

“This Russian agency has repeatedly acted deceptively and tried to manipulate people in the U.S., Europe, and Russia,” Zuckerberg wrote, “and we don’t want them on Facebook anywhere in the world.”