Facebook removes fake accounts linked to foreign propaganda ops

SAN FRANCISCO • Facebook has taken down three separate on-line operations run by foreign governments or foreign actors that were trying to hide their true identity and mislead users on the social network.

The social media company said it removed dozens of Facebook and Instagram accounts as well as Pages, and groups from Russia, Iran, Vietnam and Myanmar, for "foreign or government interference", meaning the networks were trying to "manipulate public debate in another country".

The largest of the campaigns originated in Russia, and used accounts masquerading as local ones to try to influence users in Ukraine by sharing posts about local and political news, Facebook said. The company was able to link the accounts to Russian military intelligence services, according to a blog post.

"Some of these accounts represented themselves as citizen journalists and tried to contact policymakers, journalists and other public figures in the region," the post stated.

The account owners posted content in Russian, English and Ukrainian about Russian military engagement in Syria, ethnic tensions in Crimea and the downing of a Malaysian plane in Ukraine in 2014, among other topics.

Another, smaller campaign originated in Iran and targeted American users, posting content covering topics including the US elections, Christianity and criticism of US policies in the Middle East. The entire network comprised just 11 Facebook and Instagram accounts.

The last campaign originated in Myanmar and Vietnam, and targeted users in Myanmar. It included 13 accounts and 10 Pages, Facebook said. The accounts in the last campaign typically posted articles about alleged business failures of some service providers in the two countries.

Takedowns like these have become somewhat routine for Facebook, which has made a concerted effort to combat fake accounts and profiles since the 2016 US presidential election. It faces even more pressure to do so now, ahead of the US election in November.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2020, with the headline 'Facebook removes fake accounts linked to foreign propaganda ops'. Print Edition | Subscribe