Malaysian police allegedly linked to 'troll farm' on Facebook, Instagram

Many of the fake accounts were said to have spent up to US$6,000 (S$8,270) for advertisements on Facebook and Instagram. PHOTO: ST FILE

KUALA LUMPUR - More than 600 Facebook and Instagram accounts allegedly linked to the Malaysian police have been removed by tech giant Meta, which believes they were part of a "troll farm" used to corrupt or manipulate public discourse.

In its Quarterly Adversarial Threat Report, the parent company of the two social media platforms said this network of fake accounts posted memes in the Malay language in support of the current coalition government and attempted to paint its critics as corrupt, in addition to promoting the police force.

This was in violation of Meta's policy against "coordinated inauthentic behaviour''.

"We found this network after reviewing information about a small portion of this activity initially suspected to have originated in China by researchers at Clemson University.

"Although the people behind it attempted to conceal their identity and coordination, our investigation found links to the Royal Malaysia Police," Meta said in the report released on Thursday (Aug 4).

"Typically, their posting activity accelerated during weekdays, taking breaks for lunch. Their fake accounts were fairly underdeveloped and some of them used stolen profile pictures. Some of them were detected and disabled by our automated systems," it added.

Many of the fake accounts were said to have spent up to US$6,000 (S$8,270) for advertisements on Facebook and Instagram, which were paid for primarily in Malaysian ringgit, according to Meta.

To date, a total of 596 Facebook accounts, 180 pages, 11 groups and 72 Instagram accounts have been removed in connection with the case.

"About 427,000 accounts followed one or more of these pages, around 4,000 accounts joined one or more of these groups and about 15,000 accounts followed one or more of these Instagram accounts," said Meta.

The Malaysian police refuted claims that the fake social media accounts were connected to it. In a statement issued on Friday, the police said it viewed the allegations seriously and was collecting further information on the matter.

Democratic Action Party's Social Media Bureau chairman Syahredzan Johan said the findings showed how the government has been funding trolls and cyber troopers with public funds and resources for its own interests.

"It is not an exaggeration to conclude that apart from these accounts and pages, there are other accounts and pages, across various social media platforms, which also carry out similar activities.

"Public resources, including bodies that should serve all Malaysians, should not be used for political purposes like this," he said in a statement on Friday.

This is not the first time the police force has been embroiled in a scandal.

Just before he retired last year, former police chief Abdul Hamid Bador revealed that there was a "cartel" in the force working to topple him so that it could carry out "dirty works" for its personal gain.

This was later denied by Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin, who said the claim was unheard of.

Other than a "troll farm" in Malaysia, Meta also removed two other networks engaged in similar operations - one network linked to a public relations firm in Israel, and another troll farm in Russia targeting global discourse about the war in Ukraine.

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