By Joseph Menn and David Ingram
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters)
Facebook is expanding its response to people using the platform improperly and on Tuesday said it had deleted hundreds of Russian accounts and pages associated with a “troll factory” indicted by U.S. prosecutors for fake activist and political posts in the 2016 U.S. election campaign
Facebook said many of the deleted articles and pages came from Russia-based Federal News Agency, known as FAN, and that the social media company’s security team had concluded that the agency was technologically and structurally intertwined with the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency.
Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg told Reuters in an exclusive interview that the agency “has repeatedly acted to deceive people and manipulate people around the world, and we don’t want them on Facebook anywhere.”
The world’s largest social media company is under pressure to improve its handling of data after disclosing that information about 50 million Facebook users wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which worked on then-Republican candidate Donald Trump‘s campaign.
The removed accounts and pages were mainly in Russian, and many had little political import, the company said. Previously Facebook focused on taking down fake accounts and accounts spreading fake news.
The new policy will include otherwise legitimate content spread by those same actors, Zuckerberg said.
“It is clear from the evidence that we’ve collected that those organizations are controlled and operated by” the Internet Research Agency, he added.
In February, the agency known as IRA was among three firms and 13 Russians indicted by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges they conspired to tamper in the presidential campaign and support Trump while disparaging Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Russian media organization RBC last year reported that FAN and IRA once shared the same street address and had other connections. One of the people that it said made decisions at FAN was indicted by Mueller’s office, which is investigating U.S. intelligence agency conclusions that Moscow tried to undermine the democratic process. Russia denies interfering in the elections.
Facebook disclosed in September that Russians used Facebook to meddle in U.S. politics, posting on the social network under false names in the months before and after the 2016 elections.
Zuckerberg said on Tuesday that improved machine learning had helped find connections between the latest posts and IRA. He and Facebook security officials said the company would do the same when they find more legitimate content being pushed out by groups exposed as manipulators.
“We’re going to execute and operate under our principles,” Zuckerberg said. “We don’t allow people to have fake accounts, and if you repeatedly try to set up fake accounts to manipulate things, then our policy is to ban all of your accounts.”
Zuckerberg said that the standard is high for such retribution toward news organizations and that state-owned media by itself was fine.
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