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Facebook takes down hundreds of fake Russian Instagram accounts

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Jan. 31, 2021 file photo, people clash with police during a protest against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia.
Jan. 31, 2021 file photo, people clash with police during a protest against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia.   -   Copyright  Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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Facebook says it has removed hundreds of fake Instagram accounts that aimed to confuse people in Russia who were protesting the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny.

Fake accounts posted irrelevant information using hashtags, locations and keywords to intervene and confuse pro-Navalny users looking for information about demonstrations, the social media giant said.

"We removed 530 Instagram accounts that originated primarily in Russia and targeted domestic audiences throughout the recent protests in support of Alexey Navalny, an anti-corruption activist and opposition politician in Russia," Facebook said in a blog post.

Many of the fake accounts had profile photos of celebrities or automated pictures. They were also using hashtags frequently used by Navalny supporters and checked into locations where demonstrations were planned.

Navalny spent five months recovering in Germany after he was poisoned by a nerve-agent. He blames the attack on Russian authorities but the Kremlin has denied any responsibility.

The opposition leader was arrested on his arrival back in Russia for allegedly violating his parole conditions by not reporting for meetings with law enforcement when he was recuperating in Germany. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail, which sparked nationwide protests.

In January, Russia's watchdog called on social networks such as Facebook to be held accountable for involving adolescents in pro-Navalny "unauthorised rallies on January 23".

In a statement to Euronews, Facebook said: "These accounts were removed as part of our ongoing work to find and stop coordinated campaigns that seek to manipulate public debate across our apps.

"This isn’t a case of us removing the accounts of authentic Pro-Navalny protesters," they added.

Russia's watchdog has responded to Facebook's removal of these accounts, demanding a list of profiles to which access has been restricted, as well as to explain the reasons for blocking them.