Facebook purges pages for ‘coordinated’ fake behaviour
Congress says ‘no official pages’ run by it have been purged
With less than two weeks before India goes to the polls, Facebook said it had removed more than 700 pages and accounts in India for “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” including 687 linked to an IT cell of the Congress party. The other 15 pages, groups and accounts that were taken down were associated with an Indian IT firm Silver Touch, which does a bulk of its work for the NDA government.
The Congress, however, said that none of the party’s verified Facebook accounts had been removed by the social media giant. “No official pages run by INC have been taken down,” the Congress tweeted on its official handle. “Additionally, all pages run by our verified volunteers are also unaffected. In the mean time, we are awaiting a response from Facebook to provide us a list of all pages/accounts that they have taken down.”
In a blogpost, Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher wrote that the people behind these pages and accounts coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, while stressing that they were removed on he basis of their behaviour, not the content they posted.
Interestingly, the 687 pages and accounts linked to individuals connected an an IT cell of the Congress spent the rupee equivalent of about $39,000 for ads on Facebook between August 2014 and March 2019, while the 15 accounts and pages associated with Silver Touch spent about $70,000 (in rupees) on ads between June 2014 and February 2019.
On the 687 pages and accounts linked to Congress, Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy said in a blogpost, “The individuals behind this activity used fake accounts, the majority of which had already been detected and suspended by our automated systems, and joined various Groups to disseminate their content and increase engagement on their own Pages.” The Page admins and account owners typically posted about local news and political issues, including topics like the upcoming elections, candidate views, the INC and criticism of political opponents, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“While the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review found that it was connected to individuals associated with an INC IT Cell,” it added.
On accounts and pages linked to individuals associated Silver Touch, Facebook said, “A small number of Page admins and account owners used a combination of authentic and fake accounts to share their content across a variety of Pages.” They posted about local news and political events, including topics like the Indian government, the upcoming elections, the BJP and alleged misconduct of political opponents, including the INC.
Additionally, Facebook removed 321 pages and accounts in India for violating our policies against spam and misrepresentation. This included using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names, impersonating someone else, posting links to malware, and posting massive amounts of content across a network of Groups and Pages in order to drive traffic to websites they are affiliated with in order to make money.
"Will Facebook tell us has it not removed 15 pages of a company called the Silver Touch that developed the NaMo app? Have they not removed 321 pages linked to the BJP because of spamming? Why has Facebook not named BJP? Is it because they [BJP] have given advertisement to the tune of ₹1.5 crore while we have given only ₹1.68 lakh [since March 2]?” Randeep Surjewala of the Congress said.
Separately, the social media giant said it removed 103 pages, groups and accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour on Facebook and Instagram as part of a network that originated in Pakistan. “The individuals behind this activity used fake accounts to operate military fan Pages; general Pakistani interest Pages; Kashmir community Pages; and hobby and news Pages.” They also frequently posted about local and political news including topics like the Indian government, political leaders and military.
“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found that it was linked to employees of the ISPR [Inter-Service Public Relations] of the Pakistani military,” Facebook said, adding that these spent around $1,100 for ads on Facebook paid for in U.S. dollars and Pakistani rupees. The first ad ran in May 2015 and the most recent ad ran in December 2018.
“The operations we found to be engaged in coordinated inauthentic behaviour were two distinct sets of activity in India and one network in Pakistan. We didn’t find any links between the campaigns we’ve removed today, but they used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing,” Facebook said.