- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Facebook announced Wednesday that it removed hundreds of Instagram accounts it had connected to a coordinated effort to mislead Russian users during recent protests held in support of Alexey Navalny.

The network of 530 accounts is one of five that Facebook said it purged from its platforms in February for violating the social media company’s policy against “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

Mr. Navalny, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was arrested in Moscow in January after returning from Germany, where he was recovering from being poisoned several months earlier.

Russians protested across the country after Mr. Navalny was arrested, and Facebook said the Instagram accounts sought to bury information about those demonstrations being shared on social media.

“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, an anti-corruption activist and politician,” Facebook said in a new report. “These accounts were automatically detected by our systems and then disabled as fake.”

Some of the posts made on Instagram were critical of the pro-Navalny protests, including memes that suggested participants would catch the novel coronavirus and then pass it on to their grandparents.

Other posts included Navalny-related hashtags and location tags but were mere advertisements for women’s clothing and handbags, Facebook explained in a report summarizing its findings.

The network of Instagram accounts used images of celebrities for their profile photos in some instances, Facebook reported, while other profile images were computer-generated, the company added.

Facebook said the Instagram accounts primarily originated in Russia but did not attribute them to any specific actor. The accounts were likely created in bulk and then purchased, Facebook added.

Around 55,000 Instagram accounts followed one or more of the network accounts, Facebook said.

Mr. Navalny, 44, was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison following his arrest. The U.S. government has blamed Russia for his poisoning and consequently imposed sanctions on Moscow earlier this week.

The four other networks removed by Facebook recently and mentioned in the company’s latest monthly report on coordinated inauthentic behavior include one each from Thailand and Morocco and two from Iran.

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