Facebook is expanding its response to people using the platform improperly and on Tuesday said it had deleted hundreds of Russian accounts and pages associated with a “troll factory” indicted by US prosecutors for fake activist and political posts in the 2016 US election campaign.
Many of the deleted articles and pages came from Russia-based Federal News Agency, known as FAN, Facebook said, adding that its security team had concluded that the agency was technologically and structurally intertwined with the Saint Petersburg, Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA).
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview that FAN “has repeatedly acted to deceive people and manipulate people around the world, and we don’t want them on Facebook anywhere.”
The world’s largest social media company is under pressure to improve its handling of data after disclosing that the information of about 50 million Facebook users wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which worked on then-US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign.
The removed accounts and pages were mainly in Russian, and many had little political import, the company said.
Previously Facebook focused on taking down fake accounts and accounts spreading fake news.
The new policy is to include otherwise legitimate content spread by those same actors, Zuckerberg said.
“It is clear from the evidence that we’ve collected that those organizations are controlled and operated by” IRA, he added.
In February, IRA was among three firms and 13 Russians indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller on charges that they conspired to tamper in the presidential campaign and support Trump while disparaging US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Russian media organization RBC last year reported that FAN and IRA once shared the same street address and had other connections.
One of the people that RBC said made decisions at FAN was indicted by Mueller’s office, which is investigating US intelligence agency conclusions that Moscow tried to undermine the US democratic process.
Russia denies interfering in the election.
Facebook in September last year disclosed that Russians used Facebook to meddle in US politics, posting on the social network under false names in the months before and after the 2016 election.
Zuckerberg on Tuesday said that improved machine learning had helped find connections between the latest posts and IRA.
He and Facebook security officials said the company would do the same when they find more legitimate content being pushed out by groups exposed as manipulators.
“We’re going to execute and operate under our principles,” Zuckerberg said. “We don’t allow people to have fake accounts, and if you repeatedly try to set up fake accounts to manipulate things, then our policy is to ban all of your accounts.”
The standard is high for such retribution toward news organizations, Zuckerberg said, adding that state-owned media by itself was fine.
The company has decided to root out as much as it can of IRA, which was involved with posts including sponsoring fake pages that were pro-Trump, pro-border security and protesting police violence against minorities, among other topics.
Facebook officials said the accounts and pages in question had 1 million unique followers on Facebook and 500,000 on Instagram, mainly in Russia, Ukraine and nearby countries, such as Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.
The company, which is now one of the main ways politicians advertise to voters, plans to start a public archive showing all election-related ads, how much money was spent on each one, the number of impressions each receives and the demographics of the audience reached.
Facebook is on track to bring that data to voters before US congressional elections in November, Zuckerberg said on Tuesday.
Facebook plans to send postcards by US mail to verify the identities and location of people who want to purchase US election-related advertising.
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