Instagram deletes more than 500 accounts for scaremongering amid pro-Navalny rallies
A Russian-backed network of inauthentic accounts aimed at misleading and intimidating people amid last month’s protests in support of jailed opposition politician Alexey Navalny has been removed from Instagram, Facebook said in its “February 2021 Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Report.”
“We removed 530 Instagram accounts that originated primarily in Russia and targeted domestic audiences throughout the recent protests in support of Alexey Navalny [...] We detected and disabled the vast majority of these accounts, including through automation, as they began posting.”
As Facebook explains, this network of fake accounts used tactics often seen from “spam and financially motivated actors.” One such account had around 55,000 followers.
“In an attempt to drown out relevant information, this network used hundreds of accounts and mass-posted content with the same hashtags and location tags used by people posting about the protests against the arrest of Alexey Navalny [...] These accounts were automatically detected by our systems and then disabled as fake.”
These bot accounts mainly published memes criticizing the protests, making claims about “large numbers of minors” attending the rallies. According to Facebook, there were also advertisements for women’s clothes and bags, which — like the meme posts — used hashtags linked to the protest movement such as “Putin Leave” (#Путинуходи), “23 January” (#23января), and “Freedom for Navalny” (#СвободуНавальному). These posts were given geotags for Red Square, as well as places where the protesters planned to hold rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Among the accounts Instagram deleted were fake users that had profile pictures generated by neural networks, the report says. Media reports drew attention to these suspicious accounts back in January.
Facebook’s report didn’t link the network of fake accounts to the Russian authorities or any organization in particular.
In addition to the Russian network, Facebook removed fake accounts from Thailand, Iran, and Morocco. These inauthentic networks mainly targeted domestic audiences.
In February 2021, Twitter announced that it had blocked 100 fake accounts believed to be linked to the Russian GRU and the Internet Research Agency (also known as the St. Petersburg troll factory, linked to oligarch Evgeny Prigozhin). Twitter made no mention of these fake users producing content about the protests in Russia. For example, these accounts were sharing information aimed at undermining confidence in the stability of NATO.