Facebook takes down accounts tied to Russian 'troll factory'

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Facebook has removed more than 270 accounts it deteremined to be controlled by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russia-based "troll farm" accused of meddling in democracy by spreading propaganda.

Facebook said Tuesday that it removed more than 200 Facebook pages and Instagram accounts controlled by the Russian organization that had meddled in the USA 2016 presidential election, most of which were in Russian, a sign that manipulation on Facebook continued months after a purge.

Stamos says 95 percent of the accounts and Pages were in Russian and targeted Russia or Russian-speakers in nearby countries including Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.

Stamos said the company had removed the latest set of pages and accounts "solely because they were controlled by the IRA - not based on the content".

Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos also said Russia-linked actors had spent almost $170,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads since the beginning of 2015.

Mr Zuckerberg told Reuters that the Russian firm, which operates under several names, "has repeatedly acted to deceive people and manipulate people around the world, and we don't want them on Facebook anywhere". According to Facebook, these pages and accounts were not terminated because of their content, but because of their secret association with IRA.

The IRA garnered intense scrutiny after media reports and assessments by the US intelligence community revealed how professional trolls at the Kremlin-linked company sought to sow discord and disinformation via online influence operations during the 2016 USA presidential election.

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COO Sheryl Sandberg added in her own post that the company would "keep working to remove bad actors, reduce misinformation and false news, and keep you informed of the important changes we're making". "In the next few weeks, we'll be updating our Help Center tool so anyone can check if they liked or followed one of these Pages".

Mr Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the U.S. election, had indicted 13 Russians associated with the Internet Research Agency, including Mr Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman with Kremlin ties whom the indictment said controlled the Internet Research Agency and related businesses. In particular, the company said that "inauthentic" accounts most likely operating out of Russian Federation had purchased $100,000 worth of political ads between 2015 and 2016. Before they capitalized on Facebook to promote fake news and divisive ads to the American public, and to organize anti-Clinton or pro-Trump rallies in different states, Russian trolls used the social-media platform to push out Ukrainian activists, The Daily Beast reported in September. The U.S. Treasury sanctioned 21 individuals and 9 entities, including Prigozhin and the other defendants named by Mueller, in March. Warner has frequently voiced skepticism that Facebook and other social media platforms have thoroughly investigated disinformation efforts perpetrated by Russian Federation and other foreign actors.

In a blog post, Facebook's chief security officer, Alex Stamos, said that "uncovering this activity took months of work by our team".

Though Zuckerberg has publicly expressed a willingness to appear before Congress, he has not formally accepted any committee requests.

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg said the move was an "important step to protect the integrity of elections around the world".

"Today's disclosure of more IRA-linked accounts is evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division, spread disinformation, and influence political debates around the globe", Sen.

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