Kremlin Accuses Facebook of Censorship After Bot Accounts Deleted

(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

The Russian government was quick to gripe after Facebook deleted hundreds of Kremlin-linked accounts and pages created by a Russian “troll factory.”

“It is odd that a company that celebrates openness is resorting to totalitarian methods of control and censorship on the basis of dubious criteria,” charged Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, at a Moscow press conference on Wednesday.

“It is clear that this is part of the anti-Russian campaign in which the media landscape is being cleansed of alternative sources of information, under the pretext of Russian interference in the 2016 election,” Zakharova said.

Facebook deleted media and 270 Russian accounts, most of them created by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), an apparently Kremlin-funded propaganda arm, which had 1.5 million followers across Facebook and Instagram.

Other deleted pages included one for the Moscow mayor’s economic development office.

The purge was “not based on the content,” Facebook said, but rather because some IRA accounts lied and posed as American.

The accounts “used complex networks of inauthentic accounts to deceive and manipulate people who use Facebook, including before, during and after the 2016 US presidential elections,” Facebook said in a statement.

“Security isn’t a problem you ever fully solve,” Zuckerberg said on his Facebook page. “Organizations like the IRA are sophisticated adversaries who are constantly evolving, but we’ll keep improving our techniques to stay ahead — especially when it comes to protecting the integrity of elections.”

Most of the accounts contained content praising Russia and President Vladimir Putin, such as “commentary on domestic and international political issues, the promotion of Russian culture and tourism as well as debate on more everyday issues,” Facebook stated.

IRA accounts also bought about $167,000 of Facebook and Instagram ads in the past three years.

Facebook’s most recent purge follows a September, 2017 purge of 470 Russian accounts, which seems to have missed the ones deleted this week, as most of those were created during the 2016 campaign season.

Zakharova demanded to know what laws or Facebook terms the accounts violated.

She said she knows the social media company is “in a difficult position and is being pressured to show loyalty to the US political establishment,” but encouraged Facebook to protect “democracy and freedom of speech.”

Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted the IRA in February.

Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify to both House and Senate committees on Tuesday about the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, which is separate from the Russian accounts issue.

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