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Last week, Facebook shared that it has removed hundreds of pages, groups, and accounts for engaging in a “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on Facebook and Instagram. These accounts were found to be linked to employees of Sputnik, a news website and radio broadcast service established by a government-owned and operated news agency, Rossiya Segodnya, based in Moscow.

Sputnik believes that this step by Facebook is nothing but “practically censorship”. It, in a statement, said, “The decision is clearly political in its nature and is practically censorship — seven pages belonging to our news hubs in neighboring countries have been blocked.” It further added, “Sputnik editorial offices deal with news and they do it well. If this blocking is Facebook’s only reaction to the quality of the media’s work, then we have no questions, everything is clear here. There is still hope that common sense will prevail.”

The research done by the Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) revealed that the pages and accounts weren’t limited to news content. Some pages were devoted to travel in Latvia, while some were devoted to fans of the president of Tajikistan. In a blog post, The Digital Forensic Research Lab worte, “Most posts were apolitical, but some, especially in the Baltic States, were sharply political, anti-Western, and anti-NATO.

According to DFRLab the main aim of these pages or accounts was to promote Rossiya Segodnya, “the effect of these activities was promotion of Rossiya Segodnya (the state-run Russian news agency that launched Sputnik) output to a range of special-interest audiences, without stating their background or affiliation.” The main concern was that most of these pages were covert, and did not openly mentioned any connection to Rossiya Segodnya.

What Facebook’s research revealed?

After this investigation, Facebook took down 364 Facebook Pages and accounts as part of a network, which was found to have originated in Russia and operated in the Baltics, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Central and Eastern European countries. These accounts were primarily focused on news, or general interest topics like weather, travel, sports, economics, or politicians. Some of the accounts and pages frequently posted about topics like anti-NATO sentiment, protest movements, and anti-corruption. This takedown is the latest in a series of actions taken by the social media platform against inauthentic pages, groups, and accounts. In November 2018, Facebook removed 107 Facebook Pages, Groups, and accounts, as well as 41 Instagram accounts.

Nina Jankowicz, a Global Fellow at the U.S. government-funded Kennan Institute, tweeted that these posts consisted of inflaming news and targeted individual Ukrainian regions/cities:

She believes that detection of accounts that are linked to a “state-run propaganda arm” should have been easier for Facebook and it should invest more for the early detection of these type of accounts:

To read more in detail, check out Facebook’s original news.

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