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Facebook shuts hundreds of pages linked to Russia's Sputnik

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Facebook says it has removed hundreds of Russia-linked pages, groups and accounts that it says were part of two big disinformation operations, in its latest effort to combat fake news.

The social media company said Thursday it took action after finding two networks "that engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior" on its Facebook and Instagram platforms.

Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said in a blog post that one network operated in countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the other focused on Ukraine. 

The people running the accounts represented themselves as independent news sources and posted on topics like anti-NATO sentiment and protest movements, although Facebook said one network of 364 pages was linked to employees of Sputnik, a Russian state-run English-language news site.

"Some of the Pages frequently posted about topics like anti-NATO sentiment, protest movements, and anti-corruption," Gleicher wrote in the blog post. "We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don't want our services to be used to manipulate people."

Sputnik did not reply to emailed requests for comment.

Sputnik activity

Facebook said the Sputnik-linked accounts has been active for years, organizing about 190 events that started in August 2015 and as recently as January 2019. The pages had about 790,000 followers. 

"Up to 1,200 people expressed interest in at least one of these events. We cannot confirm whether any of these events actually occurred," Gleicher wrote. 

The company said about $135,000 spending in ads were paid for in euros, rubles and U.S. dollars, with the ads starting in October 2013 and running as recently as this month. 

Law enforcement

Facebook said it also received a tip from U.S. law enforcement that led it to remove 107 Facebook pages, groups and accounts, as well as 41 Instagram accounts, "for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior as part of a network that originated in Russia and operated in Ukraine."

"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," Gleicher noted.

These accounts had about 180,000 Facebook followers and 55,000 Instagram followers.