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Facebook purges more accounts linked to Russia

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Facebook's latest move to curb manipulation removed dozens of accounts linked to Russian military intelligence. LOIC VENANCE/AFP

Facebook purges more accounts linked to Russia

Facebook on Wednesday said it purged dozens of accounts linked to Russian military intelligence in the latest effort to root out manipulation and disinformation of the huge social network.

Other accounts originating in Iran, Vietnam and Myanmar were also blocked on Facebook and Instagram for “engaging in foreign or government interference”, Facebook head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher said.

The Russia-based network which included 78 Facebook accounts and four on Instagram focused mainly on Ukraine and neighbouring countries and posted content about the conflict in Syria, ethnic tensions in Crimea and the downing of a Malaysian airliner in Ukraine in 2014.

“Although the people behind this network attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to Russian military intelligence services,” Gleicher said in a blog post.

The move is the latest by social networks seeking to crack down on foreign manipulation including efforts to artificially promote certain political messages, often with misinformation.

London-based news agency giant Reuters said on Wednesday that its newly launched Reuters Fact Check business unit has joined Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme and will fact-check user-generated content posted on the social media platform and its photo-sharing app Instagram

Technology news website TechCrunch reported that the four-person team comprises two English speakers staffed in Washington DC and two Spanish speakers in Mexico City.

Other partners of the social media giant’s fact-checking initiative include Agence France Presse, The Associated Press, Factcheck.org, PolitiFact, Snopes.com and The Weekly Standard.

Also on Wednesday, Facebook said it took down separate networks in Iran, Vietnam and Myanmar.

Six Facebook and five Instagram accounts from Iran that were focused on the US and US-Iranian relations were removed for “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, and apparent links to a similar network taken down by Facebook in January last year.

“They shared posts about political news and geopolitics including topics like the US elections, Christianity, US-Iran relations, US immigration policy, criticism of US policies in the Middle East and public figures as well as video interviews with academics, public figures and columnists on issues related to Iran and US elections,” Gleicher said.

An additional 13 Facebook accounts from Myanmar and Vietnam were removed for using fake accounts to manage pages “posing as independent telecom consumer news hubs,” which disparaged business rivals, according to the Facebook statement.

These pages turned out to be linked to telecom services Mytel in Myanmar and Viettel in Vietnam, and Gapit Communications, a communications firm in Vietnam.

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