Facebook removes hundreds of pages "linked to Russian site"

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Facebook has removed hundreds of pages believed to be connected to the Kremlin-backed Sputnik news website for allegedly breaching its rules.

The Facebook pages, which were targeted at individuals in former Soviet satellite states, either pretended to be independent news services or had names designed to appeal to fans of particular individuals, regions, or foods.

“Despite their misrepresentations of their identities, we found that these pages and accounts were linked to employees of Sputnik, a news agency based in Moscow, and that some of the pages frequently posted about topics like anti-Nato sentiment, protest movements, and anti-corruption,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of of cybersecurity policy.

Sputnik is a sister service of RT, the television channel known as Russia Today. It has offices around the world, including in London and Edinburgh, and often runs punchy news stories with an anti-west message.
Facebook said it had removed 289 pages and 75 accounts believed to be involved in the Sputnik-run network, with activity dating as far back as 2013. Typical pages included one about fashion in Georgia and another about the weather in the breakaway republic of Abkhazia.

One of the deleted Facebook pages was designed to appeal to Latvian food lovers. The page mainly featured pictures of gooey chocolate cakes lifted from Instagram, food recipe videos taken from BuzzFeed’s Tasty brand, and photographs of cats pulling funny faces, in an apparent bid to build up an audience interested in light-hearted content.

The page would then occasionally post a link to a Sputnik news story on a topic such as the rising cost of food.

The pages appeared designed to boost the reach of Sputnik news content, although it was unclear whether the motive was to find people who would not normally view the Russian news site, to increase Sputnik’s audience figures in order to make the news service look more successful, or a combination of the two.