• Fri. Dec 4th, 2020

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Technology

Facebook says fake accounts tied to Russia posed as journalists and promoted other websites

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Facebook announced Thursday that it took down three separate networks of fake accounts tied to Russia.


Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

Facebook said Thursday it removed more than 340 accounts and pages and groups tied to Russia, some of which posed as journalists and tried to drive people to other websites and social media platforms. 

The social network said it pulled down three separate networks of Russian-linked accounts that targeted various countries worldwide but had a “very limited following.” Some of these accounts tried to pose as news outlets, dupe freelance journalists into writing articles and attempted to drive users to other websites. Facebook removed these accounts for violating its rules against misleading others about their identity and purpose on behalf of a foreign or government entity. 

Russian interference in US elections has been a top concern after a Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency used Facebook to post content to sow discord among Americans during the 2016 US presidential election. Some of the recent Russian-linked fake accounts that Facebook took down shared a small amount of content about the US, but it didn’t appear to be the primary focus of these networks.

“For each of these (networks), there’s a risk that between now and the election they could pivot to start to engage in the United States and so we’re proactively removing them to prevent that risk from occurring,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, who heads security policy at Facebook during a press conference.

The removal of these accounts, he said, is one sign that Facebook’s use of technology and partnerships with government officials, researchers and others is making it harder for bad actors to conceal their identities and what they’re doing.

“They get caught sooner, and they get caught when they have less impact and less reach,” he said.

The largest network of Russian-linked accounts that Facebook announced on Thursday it took down had ties to the Russian military and military intelligence services. Facebook removed 214 Facebook users, 35 Pages, 18 Groups and 34 Instagram accounts in that network. The fake accounts mostly focused primarily on Syria and Ukraine. They also targeted Turkey, Japan, Armenia, Georgia, Belarus, and Moldova. There was a small amount of activity that focused on the UK and the US. 

These accounts posed as journalists and locals in countries they targeted. Some of the pages and groups they managed claimed to be hacktivist groups. This network posted about current events, including the Syrian civil war, and politics in several countries such as Ukraine, Russia and the US. They tried to get Facebook users to visit other websites, links which the social network said it has blocked.

The network of Russian-linked accounts that had the most following were tied to Russian intelligence services. Facebook pulled 23 Facebook accounts, 6 Pages, and 8 Instagram accounts in this network. They posed as editors and researchers to get people to write articles for their sites. They posted about politics in various countries including the US. About 59,000 accounts followed one or more of these Pages and around 2,000 people followed one or more of these Instagram accounts. 

The last network of Russian-linked accounts Facebook removed included one Page, five Facebook accounts, one Group and three Instagram accounts. The tech company said that this network tried to drive people to a site claiming to be an independent think-tank based primarily in Turkey. The fake accounts had links to people associated with the IRA, but Facebook said it isn’t clear if this troll farm is still active today.

Facebook said it hasn’t any seen any overlap of coordination between these three networks. This isn’t the first time Facebook has announced takedown of Russian-linked fake accounts. In September, Facebook pulled down another network of fake accounts that duped some freelance journalists into writing for a site called PeaceData that described itself as a “global news organization.” PeaceData says on its website that it’s no longer operating. 

Facebook noted that it doesn’t have the power to take action on other websites outside of the social network, but it can limit traffic to them.

“We are going to make sure people know about it, we’re going to call it out, and we will share information so that others who have that capacity can take direct action,”Gleicher said.

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