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Facebook, Instagram Delete Dozens of Russia-Linked Accounts

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On Tuesday, Facebook announced that it had deleted 70 Facebook and 65 Instagram mostly Russian-language accounts owned by Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Russian group accused of interfering in the 2016 US presidential election.

In addition, 138 Facebook pages controlled by IRA were also closed down. Many of those pages also ran ads, which were removed.

In a Tuesday blog post by Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos, he wrote, "Of the pages that had content, the vast majority of them (95 percent) were in Russian — targeted either at people living in Russia or Russian-speakers around the world including from nearby countries like Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine."

He adds that "the IRA has repeatedly used complex networks of unauthentic accounts to decide and manipulate people whom use Facebook, including before, during and after the 2016 US presidential elections." 

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The blog post notes that the accounts and pages were deleted from the platform not because of their content, which included information on domestic and international political issues as well as information on Russian culture and tourism, but merely because they were controlled by the IRA.

In a post by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published Tuesday, he wrote that the accounts had been closed because of their aim to "manipulate people in the US, Europe and Russia." Though of course, if 95 percent of the accounts deleted were in the Russian language, their target audience in the US and Europe must have been relatively small.

"Security isn't a problem you ever fully solve. Organizations like the IRA are sophisticated adversaries who are constantly evolving, but we'll keep improving our techniques to stay ahead — especially when it comes to protecting the integrity of elections," he added in his Facebook post.

Earlier this year, a federal grand jury indicted 13 Russian national and three Russian groups, including the IRA, for running Eastern European and Russian "troll farms." The indictments come as part of US special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Mueller has indicted former officials from US President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign Paul Manafort and Rick Gates for tax fraud and related charges related to their work as lobbyists for Ukrainian politicians before joining the campaign. Michael Flynn, briefly Trump's national security adviser, and George Papadopoulos, a campaign adviser, have pleaded guilty to making false statements in the investigation. No charges of conspiracy or collusion with Russia have been leveled against members of the president's campaign, and Moscow and Trump have consistently denied that any such collusion occurred.

Last month, Trump called Mueller's ongoing investigation a "witchhunt."

​"A total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!" Trump tweeted March 19.

Zuckerberg has previously dismissed allegations that his platform was used by foreign agents to influence the presidential election. The popular social media platform, however, was recently drawn again into the election morass after after recent allegations that data and political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica received information about Facebook users through a personality app developed by Alexander Kogan, a Cambridge University researcher.

Media reports state that the firm worked for US President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign as well as the Brexit campaign to develop a mechanism that would allow it to predict and influence voter behavior. The analytics contractor reportedly gained access to private data from 50 million Facebook users.

Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the data-mining company's corporate parent, the SCL Group, are being accused of misrepresenting their app as an academic research tool instead of a way to obtain Facebook users' personal data.

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