On Jan 17th, Facebook removed nearly 500 pages from its repository after suspecting coordinated inauthentic behavior. Most of the pages removed originated from Russia; a few pages were owned by the official media agency of Kremlin. The pages that were removed reportedly targeted European and Central Asian users.
Facebook’s cybersecurity head, Nathaniel Gleicher, on Thursday, confirmed the removal of nearly 500 pages from Facebook and Instagram. The statement says these pages involved in broadcasting misleading content to the social media users through a coordinated inauthentic behavior.
Most of the pages were created by a state-owned agency to spread the news and information about Russia.
Facebook mentioned that the agency had different pages for multiple niches like sports, travel, and weather; through which they tried to disseminate misleading content to the users.
Facebook has been under massive pressure to address “fake news” and counter the manipulations that are happening within the social network. Ever since the row over Russia influencing the 2016 presidential election, tech giants including Google and Facebook have come under the scanners for spreading false information.
Since then, the company has prioritized the detection of suspicious activities as their prime task, Mark Zuckerberg, had told the Parliamentary Committee during his hearing.
According to Facebook, each of these suspended pages were operated from October 2013 to January 2019 and had over 790,000 followers. It’s believed that about 1200 people expressed their interest in attending each of the 190 events organized by these pages. However, there’s no confirmation whether these events really took place. Apart from that, these pages regularly posted politically sensitive issues like anti-NATO content.
Digital Forensic Research Lab of Atlanta Council reviewed Facebook Fake Pages Take-down and reported it as a ‘Systematical covert attempt’. It also said that the pages were made to enhance the reach of Russian information to ‘more than a dozen countries’. Atlanta Council also analyzed that prime reason to block Sputnik-linked accounts may be because of its direct connection with Kremlin.
Facebook said that content published on the pages tried to influence the users of Moldova, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Armenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Azerbaijan. Atlanta Council had reported about this in October 2017. The Council said that inauthentic Facebook pages are trying to spread the Sputnik content to people in different countries. They also noticed the creation of fan pages in Russia during this period, which was purported to support the presidents of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
However, it’s pretty hard to detect such activities on a platform that has billions of users. Still, several groups are trying to spread misleading information to the audience.
“Though we are progressing towards cutting the roots of negative tactics, it’ll be an ongoing challenge as the people behind this are extremely determined and funded”, Nathaniel Gleicher wrote on his blog after this massive update.
Facebook has shared the details of the investigation with the US Congress, US law enforcement, other tech companies, and the policymakers of the targeted countries.
Here’s the analysis made by Facebook on the removed pages originated in Russia and operated in Central Asia, Baltics, Caucasus, Central and Eastern European countries:
1. Presence on Facebook:
75 Facebook accounts and 289 pages. They didn’t find any Instagram accounts associated with them.
About 790,000 accounts followed one or more of these pages.
Around $135,000 was spent on effective Facebook ads paid in US dollar, rubles, and euros. The first was run in October 2013, while the recent was run in January 2019. However, Facebook hasn’t thoroughly reviewed the organic content of these pages.
These accounts hosted close to 190 events. The first was scheduled in August 2015 and the recent was scheduled for January 2019. Around 1200 people expressed their interest in at least one of these events. It’s not confirmed whether these events really occurred.
Here are some of the samples posted by these pages:
Here’s the analysis made by Facebook on the removed pages originated in Russia and operated in Ukraine:
1. On Facebook and Instagram:
77 Facebook accounts, 4 groups, 26 pages, and 41 Instagram accounts.
2. The number of followers:
About 18 million Facebook accounts followed one or more pages and about 55,000 accounts followed one or more Instagram accounts.
Close to $25,000 was spent on Facebook and Instagram ads. The first ad ran in 2018 and the most recent one appeared in December 2018. It seems like Facebook failed to check the organic feeds within the page before approving the ads.
These pages hosted no events.
Here are some of the sample posts shared by these pages:
Facebook said, their ongoing efforts will stay a step ahead to bust shady tactics, particularly the ones with political motives. It also added that, the company is committed to build and enhance a robust security system to detect and cease such activities.