Facebook Removes Russian Accounts Targeting Navalny Supporters
A supporter holds a placard depicting Alexey Navalny, Russian opposition leader, during a demonstration in Moscow. (Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

Facebook Removes Russian Accounts Targeting Navalny Supporters

Facebook Inc. removed a network of more than 500 Instagram accounts that originated in Russia and targeted audiences in support of anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny, according to a new report from the social media company.

The campaign relied on fake accounts to post critical or irrelevant content with hashtags associated with protests in January that backed the imprisoned opposition leader, a phenomenon known as hashtag poisoning, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy. The process involves posting irrelevant or critical content to drown out relevant information and redirect the conversation. In some cases, fake users posted memes suggesting protesters got Covid-19.

Facebook’s automatic systems often detected and removed the fake accounts, prompting the bad actors to create new ones, so there were never 500 accounts in operation at the same time, Gleicher said.

The social media campaign targeted domestic audiences throughout demonstrations attended by tens of thousands of protesters in dozens of cities over the weekends of Jan. 23 and 31. The protests provoked a violent response from authorities, who accuse Navalny of working with foreign governments to try to destabilize the regime.

Facebook also removed four networks of inauthentic accounts that originated in Thailand, Iran, and Morocco. Those networks included about 900 accounts in total. Some targeted domestic audiences, while others targeted foreign users, according to the company.

Facebook executives also said that they have seen repeated attempts by the Myanmar military to rejoin the service since the company banned all military-related accounts last month following a coup. The military has been “aggressive” in its efforts to re-join Facebook, Gleicher said, but Facebook uses a combination of automated detection systems and human review to find and block those efforts.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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