Facebook removes accounts tied to Russian troll factory

Facebook is facing demands to improve privacy and learn lessons from the landmark EU law scheduled to take effect next month. Its CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it is working on a version of the law that would work globally.
Facebook is facing demands to improve privacy and learn lessons from the landmark EU law scheduled to take effect next month. Its CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it is working on a version of the law that would work globally.

WASHINGTON • Facebook's chief executive will testify before a key House committee next week, the panel said yesterday, the first of three potential hearings where Mr Mark Zuckerberg could face questions about data privacy practices.

The hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the morning of April 11 could result in an uncomfortable grilling from Democrats and Republicans who feel the social media giant is responsible for everything from fake news to online extremism.

A Facebook spokesman did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment. The catalyst for the hearings is how Facebook data was obtained by Cambridge Analytica, a data company hired by Mr Donald Trump's campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

Years earlier, Cambridge Analytica improperly appeared to access names, "likes" and other personal information from at least 30 million Facebook users, according to Mr Christopher Wylie, a former employee turned whistle-blower.

The revelations have touched off a string of investigations around the world, including the US where the Federal Trade Commission is probing Facebook over its privacy practices, and could potentially penalise the firm with fines reaching millions of dollars.

In Congress, Mr Zuckerberg has faced demands by two other Senate committees that he testify.

Meanwhile, Facebook said it had found and removed more than 270 accounts and pages controlled by Russia's Internet Research Agency, the so-called troll factory that became notorious for posting fraudulent and divisive material during the 2016 presidential election.

The social media firm said most of the accounts and pages were in Russian and aimed at users in Russia and nearby countries, including Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. It did not say they had violated its policies, but added that they had been taken down because of the Internet Research Agency's past fraud.

Mr Zuckerberg told Reuters that the Russian firm, which operates under several names, "has repeatedly acted to deceive people and manipulate people around the world, and we don't want them on Facebook anywhere".

Facebook's chief security officer Alex Stamos said "uncovering this activity took months of work by our team". He said the firm had taken down 70 accounts and 138 pages on Facebook and 65 accounts on Instagram, which Facebook owns. Over a million people had followed the Facebook pages and 493,000 had followed the Instagram accounts, and he said the firm would update a tool to let users find out if they had followed the pages and users.

The Internet Research Agency came to widespread attention with a profile in The New York Times Magazine in 2015 describing how its paid trolls working in St Petersburg posted false stories and inflammatory comments on various sites.

Mr Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the US election, had indicted 13 Russians associated with the Internet Research Agency, including Mr Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman with Kremlin ties whom the indictment said controlled the Internet Research Agency and related businesses.

Mr Zuckerberg has, meanwhile, said he agreed "in spirit" with a strict new European Union law on data privacy but stopped short of committing to it as the standard for the social network across the world.

The firm is facing demands to improve privacy and learn lessons from the landmark EU law scheduled to take effect next month. Mr Zuckerberg said Facebook is working on a version of the law that would work globally.

WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2018, with the headline 'Facebook removes accounts tied to Russian troll factory'. Print Edition | Subscribe