Following allegations against Facebook for influencing (unintentionally) the US Presidential election in the recent past, the Facebook team has become extra vigilant about allowing 3rd party agencies to control accounts and pages. The CEO and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, stated in a Facebook post that Facebook is to take down more than 270 accounts and pages controlled by the Internet Research Agency of Russia. This Russian agency was the troll factory that became ill-famed for disseminating fraudulent and divisive content during the 2016 presidential election on the social networking site.
Most of the accounts and pages were in Russian with the target readership of Russian users and the ones in neighboring countries, such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan. Zuckerberg did not mention whether the new accounts and pages had violated the company’s policies or not, but he stated they had been removed due to the Internet Research Agency’s past fraudulent record.
As per Zuckerberg, the Russian agency, which takes on several names, “has repeatedly acted to deceive people and manipulate people around the world, and we don’t want them on Facebook anywhere.”
Reiterating the decision of the Facebook team, Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, was quoted saying that “uncovering this activity took months of work by our team.” Furthermore, he added that the company had removed 70 accounts and 138 pages on Facebook and 65 accounts on Instagram, all of which were owned by Facebook.
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Stamos stated: “We removed this latest set of pages and accounts solely because they were controlled by the I.R.A. — not based on the content. This included commentary on domestic and international political issues, the promotion of Russian culture and tourism as well as debate on more everyday issues.”
As many as a million people and even more had followed the Facebook pages and 493,000 had followed the Instagram accounts. Stamos also said that the company would update a tool on its help center so that the Facebook and Instagram users could verify whether they had followed the pages and users.
In line with its taking-down policy, Facebook has also done away with $167,000 worth of ads purchased by the Russian-controlled pages since 2015.
However, The Internet Research Agency grabbed eyeballs all over when a profile came up in The New York Times Magazine in 2015 describing how the agency employed paid trolls to post false stories and inflammatory comments on various issues spanning sites across the internet. These trolls were stationed in St. Petersburg.
Back in September, Facebook announced that it had discovered and removed many notorious and fraudulent profiles and pages, most of which were extolling Donald J. Trump, bashing Hillary Clinton or simply spreading instigating memes and comments on divisive and volatile issues such as race, guns, and immigration.
The investigation of Russian interference in the election by the special counsel Robert S.Mueller III in February implicated 13 Russians linked with the Internet Research Agency, also named Yevgeny Prigozhin in the red, who was a Russian businessman with Kremlin ties responsible for controlling the Internet Research Agency and all related businesses. But, none of the indicted Russians have been arrested since then and Russia has not deported any of them to the US. Nevertheless, the indictments by Mr. Mueller were widely regarded as his sincere effort to expose the crimes that had been committed by the Russian interference, which President Trump has since then fervently slammed as a “hoax.”
Like the Internet Research Agency, similar operations with ties to Russian government officials have conducted influence campaigns not only in the US and Russia but also in other countries marked in Eastern and Western Europe. These strategic operations have generally highlighted the sharply political goals of the Kremlin, denigrating the critics of Russia both within and beyond the country.
Facebook also cited many examples of the nature of the content it had removed, such as a photo of the Russian president Vladimir V. Putin offering a toast; and tourist snaps of St. Petersburg, etc. The company added that more such taken-down content would be made public soon.
Zuckerberg stated, “Security isn’t a problem you ever fully solve. Organizations like the IRA are sophisticated adversaries who are constantly evolving, but we’ll keep improving our techniques to stay ahead — especially when it comes to protecting the integrity of elections.”
Up ahead, Facebook is to face bigger election challenges such as the 2018 US midterm elections, as well as the upcoming elections in Mexico and Brazil. With Zuckerberg’s post, today looks like Facebook is all geared up to promote the ‘integrity of elections and take down troll factories and fraudulent operations bang on!