Facebook Purges Hundreds of Accounts Linked to Russia & Iran

Published on January 24, 2019

Facebook announced earlier this week that it’s deleted at least 650 accounts linked to Russia and Iran that were attempting to execute political influence over their many followers. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year the social network is having to work overtime to maintain its reputation in the eyes of its users. Cambridge Analytica famously exposed 87 million Facebook users to political influence that allegedly impacted outcome of the 2016 US election. The latest wave of account deletions comes after Facebook found that the accounts were posting political content tied to both Russia and Iran. The social network claims that the accounts violated terms of use as “coordinated, inauthentic behavior.”

Foreign Ties

CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, said in a meeting with reporters on Saturday that security is something that the network must constantly work toward in order to stay ahead of incoming threats. The content was originally found by a security company called FireEye. The company alerted Facebook of the presence of a company called Liberty Network Press. The company had been posting political content to the site. The press page claims to be an independent news source, but upon closer investigation revealed to have ties to the Iranian government.

These campaigns may not be flat-out illegal according to any actual laws. However, Facebook continues its uphill battle against misinformation and fake news in recent months. Most of the misinformation campaigns are tied to political agendas around the world. The posts are mainly meant to discredit different political candidates. They also attempt to sway voter opinions in the days leading up to elections. Many of the campaigns are tied to various journalists aiming to fly under the radar as independent news sources. In reality, though, these journalists are tied to various state-owned outlets that aim to provide misinformation to voters.

The account purges have been criticized by various international news outlets. They’ve been called unfair censorship on a site that aims to practice freedom of speech. The Russian news outlet, Sputnik, told the associated press that it feels that its reporters have been unfairly attacked in the latest wave of account shutdowns. Many of these account shutdowns have been previously tied to political advertisements. Specifically they were political advertisements that were paid for in rubles during the 2016 election.

Account Shutdowns

The first round of account shutdowns saw that over 350 accounts were closed between Facebook and Instagram. Facebook announced that these accounts were caught posting “anti-NATO sentiments.” They were also attempting to establish distrust in democracy among their followers. These accounts held over 700,000 followers. The second wave of account deletions saw that accounts tied to the Middle East and Russia were shut down.

Since 2016, Facebook has required that all political ads taken out in the US, Britain and Brazil be transparent. They must disclose information about who, or what, is paying for them.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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