putin giving a speech on a podium

Today Facebook removed 364 pages, groups and accounts on its platform because it suspected they were linked to the Russian state-run news agency, Sputnik. The social media company said that some were being operated out of Moscow but hid their link to Sputnik in a bid to blend in as local-run Facebook pages, groups and accounts.

Countries targeted by the misinformation campaign

According to this article, the pages pretended to be publishing news in Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and Kyrgyzstan, while they were being operated out of Russia. Despite this, Facebook was able to link these pages and accounts to employees of Sputnik.

While it is unclear whether these employees acted on their own, it is likely that they had the backing of Sputnik, as well as other elements within the Russian government. This is especially true because of the large sums of money that they had spent on online advertisement.

Some of these pages regularly posted content promoting anti-NATO sentiment, protest movements and corruption amongst their followers. All in all, most of the posts were anti-Western and sought to bring about discord and chaos in the political systems of those nations that were targeted by this information warfare campaign.

Examples of the Facebook posts made by

Facebook ads and Russian reach

One page is said to have had 790,000 followers, with other pages having similar number of followers.

Facebook revealed that the operation had begun on October 2013 and had spent approximately $135,000 (using various currencies including US dollars, Russian rubles and the Euro) in ads on the social media platform. The most recent ad ran in January 2019. Facebook is yet to complete its assessment of the organic content spread from these accounts.

These pages hosted approximately 190 events. The first of which is do have had happened in August 2015, and the most recent taking place in January 2019. Up to 1,200 Facebook users are said to have had expressed interest in participating or learning more about these events. However, the social media platform cannot confirm whether these events took place.

Facebook has said that they used open source reporting to help investigate this incident. They have also shared information about their enquiry with the US law enforcement, the US Congress, other technology companies, and lawmakers in the countries targeted by the Russian information warfare campaign.

Another operation targeting Ukraine uncovered

The social media company has also removed 107 Facebook pages, groups and accounts, as well as 41 Instagram accounts, in a separate Russian misinformation campaign not linked to the Sputnik operation. They were tipped off by US law enforcement agencies.

Russia is believed to have had carried out the misinformation campaign while targeting the Ukraine. Facebook was able to identify some technical overlaps between this campaign as well as the one that targeted the United States during the Midterms late last year.

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