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Facebook Says It Removed Networks Of Fake Accounts In Russia, Pakistan

Facebook says it has removed three networks of fake accounts last month located in Russia, Pakistan, and the United States as it seeks to combat "influence operations" on its platform.

The U.S. social-media giant said on September 1 that it deleted "a small network" in Russia consisting of 13 Facebook accounts and two pages that were linked to people previously associated with the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded in 2019 following a two-year investigation that the IRA, commonly called the Russian "troll farm," sought to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election through the use of fake social-media accounts.

Facebook said it began its investigation into the Russian network following a tip about the offline activity of its members from the FBI. The network was focused primarily on the United States, Britain, Algeria, Egypt and other English-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The IRA is owned by Kremlin insider Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is also financing Russian mercenary activities in the North African nation of Libya and Syria in the Middle East.

Two men linked to the troll farm were arrested in Libya last year. According to one report, the men were seeking to influence elections in the country.

Facebook said it had removed about a dozen influence campaigns connected to individuals associated with the IRA since 2017. Overall, it has removed just over 100 networks worldwide during that same time period.

The Silicon Valley-based company said it was able to detect influence operations "earlier and earlier" and remove them before they can build their audience.

Facebook said the IRA-linked network it took down in August created pages purporting to be news agencies to appear more legitimate but claimed their influence operation did not gain much traction on its platform.

It "was largely unsuccessful on Facebook, but it tricked unwitting freelance journalists into writing stories on its behalf. We're notifying people who we believe have been contacted by this network," the company said.

Facebook did not give any details about what the IRA-linked accounts were posting and whether it concerned the 2020 U.S. election.

U.S. officials have repeatedly said that Russia is seeking to interfere in the 2020 election through online campaigns.

The Pakistan network taken down last month was much larger, consisting of 453 Facebook accounts, 103 pages, 78 groups and 107 Instagram accounts. The accounts and pages were operated from Pakistan and focused on Pakistan and India, Facebook said. It gave no further details.

Meanwhile, Facebook said the U.S. network it took down was linked to CLS Strategies, a Washington-based strategic communications firm. The U.S. network consisted of 55 Facebook accounts, 42 pages, and 36 Instagram accounts.

"This network focused primarily on Venezuela and also on Mexico and Bolivia. We found this activity as part of our proactive investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region," Facebook said.

CLS clients include the governments of several Latin American countries, including Mexico as well as two of Bolivia's neighbors, Brazil and Peru.

CLS did not immediately respond to an RFE/RL request for comment.

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