Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher published a blog post this morning saying the company has discovered and removed hundreds of pages and accounts it deemed to be “inauthentic.” The pages came from two different sources, both based in Russia.
According to Gleicher, one of the sources had ties to the Russian news agency Sputnik. Essentially, Facebook found over 360 pages that were acting in concert with each other, spreading similar information to “the Baltics, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Central and Eastern European countries.” The pages posed either as independent news sources or destinations about specific benign topics. Yet, they were affiliated with Sputnik employees and “frequently posted about topics like anti-NATO sentiment, protest movements, and anti-corruption.”
These pages organized hundreds of events over the last three years, as well as had about 790,000 followers and spent about $135,000 in advertising. Gleicher wrote they existed solely on Facebook and not Instagram.
The other source had over a hundred Facebook pages and 41 Instagram accounts. Its posts focused predominately on the Ukraine. Gleicher explained:
The individuals behind these accounts primarily represented themselves as Ukrainian, and they operated a variety of fake accounts while sharing local Ukrainian news stories on a variety of topics, such as weather, protests, NATO, and health conditions at schools. We identified some technical overlap with Russia-based activity we saw prior to the US midterm elections, including behavior that shared characteristics with previous Internet Research Agency (IRA) activity.
This is just one of many updates Facebook has provided about inauthentic accounts it has discovered on the platform. Last November, right before election day, Facebook announced that it had purged over 100 inauthentic accounts that posted in both Russian and English. Before that, Gleicher revealed that the company removed other accounts that were posting content about Iran.
Updates like this show just how much of a game of whack-a-mole this is. It’s good that Facebook is now owning up to the fact that there are thousands of pages and accounts acting in concert to get a hidden message across. Still, it took over a year for Facebook to even admit that such a problem existed.
We should expect to hear more updates of this kind as time goes on. At the same time, the question remains: How is Facebook planning on dealing with this at the systematic level?