Facebook on Monday announced that it had removed 103 pages, groups and accounts originating from Pakistan on both the social media platform and Instagram for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
The social network also announced that it had removed 687 Facebook pages and accounts that engaged in similar behavior from India, adding that these were linked to the opposition Congress political party. Another 15 Facebook pages, groups and accounts linked to Indian I.T. firm Silver Touch and 321 Indian pages and accounts involved in spam were also removed, it added.
In a post credited to Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Cybersecurity Policy, Facebook said the Pakistani network was misleading “others about who they were and what they were doing.” It said the removal did not reflect the content of the accounts, but was rather based on manipulative behavior. “The people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action,” it added.
According to Gleicher, the individuals behind the pages from Pakistan used fake accounts to operate military fan pages; general Pakistani interest pages; Kashmir community pages; and hobby and news pages. “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,” it added. ISPR has yet to respond to the allegations.
The Facebook post said about 2.8 million accounts followed one or more of the pages originating from Pakistan, with about 4,700 accounts serving as members of the groups and around 1,050 accounts following one or more of the cited Instagram accounts. Additionally, it added, around $1,100 was spent on buying ads for the Facebook pages, with first ad running in May 2015 and the most recent in December 2018.
Referring to the violations originating from India, Facebook said its moves had removed “two separate and unrelated networks” engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior, with one linked to individuals associated with Congress’ I.T. Cell and the second to I.T. firm Silver Touch. The Congress-linked accounts spent around $39,000 for ads, paid in Indian rupees, while Silver Touch paid around $70,000, it added.
According to the post, people behind similar behavior often post clickbait links to drive people to websites that seem legitimate, but are actually ad farms. As these links are often shared hundreds of times in a short period to boost web traffic, they artificially inflate engagement for inauthentic pages and the posts, misleading people about their popularity and improving their ranking in News Feed.
“This activity goes against what people expect on Facebook and it violates our policies,” the post concluded, vowing to continue removing similar accounts as soon as they are identified.