Facebook removes more accounts tied to Russian 'troll factory'

Most of the accounts and pages were in Russian and aimed at users in Russia and neighbouring or nearby countries, including Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.
Most of the accounts and pages were in Russian and aimed at users in Russia and neighbouring or nearby countries, including Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Facebook said on Tuesday (April 3) that 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 on the platform during the 2016 US presidential election.

The company said most of the accounts and pages were in Russian and aimed at users in Russia and neighbouring or nearby countries, including Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.

Facebook did not claim the new accounts and pages had violated the company's policies, but it said they had been taken down because of the Internet Research Agency's past fraud.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, told Reuters that the Russian company, 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."

In a blog post, Facebook's chief security officer, Alex Stamos, said that "uncovering this activity took months of work by our team." He said the company had taken down 70 accounts and 138 pages on Facebook and 65 accounts on Instagram, which Facebook owns.

He said that more than 1 million people had followed the Facebook pages and that 493,000 had followed the Instagram accounts. He said the company would update a tool on its help center to allow Facebook and Instagram users to find out whether 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 across the internet.

In September 2017, Facebook disclosed that it had discovered and taken down several hundreds fraudulent profiles and pages.

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

Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he was pleased that Facebook had made its actions public.