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Facebook suspends Russia-backed pages targeting millennials

Pages on current affairs and history collected tens of millions of views in the past few months, CNN reports.

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook has reportedly suspended three popular video pages designed to appeal to millennials after discovering the pages were backed by the Russian government.

The pages, which Facebook suspended Friday, are run by Maffick Media, whose majority stakeholder is Ruptly, a subsidiary of Russia-backed RT, CNN reports. Facebook plans to contact the people running the pages and ask them to disclose their affiliations to get their pages back, CNN said.

The move is unusual for Facebook, as it doesn't require users to provide information about parent companies. But in an effort in increase transparency on the platform, Facebook has taken aggressive steps to identify covert government-supported information on its service.

With more than 2 billion users worldwide, Facebook has been under pressure to reduce disinformation, hate speech and inauthentic behavior on the site. In 2017, the tech firm revealed it found evidence that Russians used the social network to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election and sow discord among Americans. Since then, Facebook has pulled down hundreds of accounts including some tied to influence campaigns by Iran.

Facebook said that users shouldn't be misled about who's behind the pages they connect with.

"Just as we've stepped up our enforcement of coordinated inauthentic behavior and financially motivated spam over the past year, we'll continue improving so people can get more information about the Pages they follow," a Facebook spokesman said in a statement. "For example, we're now rolling out in phases an update to Pages with large audiences to include information about the primary countries they're managed from.

"Since this feature isn't live yet for all, we'll be reaching out to admins of these Pages to ask that they disclose this additional information and their affiliation with their parent company to get back on the platform," Facebook said

Maffick Media denied breaking Facebook's rules.

"We did not violate any of Facebook's policies whatsoever. None of our content promotes disinformation or fake news," the company said in a statement to its website Sunday.

Disinformation has long been a part of Russia's foreign policy strategy, and social media has allowed the trolling effort to expand on a viral scale. US intelligence agencies have warned Congress that these campaigns will continue in the future.

The pages, which focused on current events, history and the environment, collected more than 30 million views since September, CNN reported.

Originally published at 1:25 p.m. PT
Updated at 3:15 p.m. with Facebook statement.