Facebook says it has suspended 70 Facebook accounts, 138 Facebook pages and 65 Instagram accounts controlled by the Internet Research Agency. The head of security, Alex Stamos, announced the news today, publishing a handful of sample ads and pages that he says were directed by the disinformation team linked to Russia. "The IRA has consistently used non-authentic accounts to deceive and manipulate people," Stamos writes. "That's why we eliminated all the accounts that we found that are linked to the organization, whether they are linked to the activity in the US, Russia or elsewhere." Facebook also removed ads linked to these accounts.
According to Stamos, finding the pages took "months of work" from Facebook. About 95 percent of the pages with specific language content were targeted at Russian speakers, and 1.08 million users followed at least one of the pages. Instagram accounts had a total of 493,000 followers, and accounts collectively spent around $ 167,000 on ads since the beginning of 2015. Facebook sampling of IRA publications includes pages called RuOpen, Politkach and Spicy Blogger, publishing content like jokes politicians and a request for "strange or frightening" stories from readers. Stamos says they were eliminated only because they were secretly associated with the IRA, not because of problems with the content.
Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post that this update was "about the elimination of [IRA] pages targeting people living in Russia," unlike those designed to influence foreign elections. "This Russian agency has acted repeatedly in a deceptive manner and has tried to manipulate people in the US, Europe and Russia, and we do not want them on Facebook anywhere in the world," he wrote.
This announcement comes as Facebook faces a separate political controversy involving Cambridge Analytica, the political data mining company that diverted data from up to 50 million users before the 2016 US election.
Facebook has consistently denounced the IRA for betraying the central ethos of Facebook's "authenticity". Last year it identified around 3,000 divisive advertisements targeting US users during the elections and suspended 30,000 supposedly fake accounts in the run-up to the French presidential election, along with a fact-checking news system. Facebook launched a tool that allows people to see if they liked or followed a propaganda account, and plans to update this tool to include these new pages.