Americans are taking a page out of Russia’s playbook.
Malicious Facebook users are creating hundreds of fake accounts and pages in attempts to politically influence users, Facebook said in a blog post on Thursday.
The Silicon Valley social networking firm has announced a crackdown on the these, removing 559 pages and 251 accounts “that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Facebook did not cite the source of these accounts, but The New York Times reported that they were run by Americans.
“Many were using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names and posted massive amounts of content across a network of Groups and Pages to drive traffic to their websites,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity, wrote.
“Many used the same techniques to make their content appear more popular on Facebook than it really was. Others were ad farms using Facebook to mislead people into thinking that they were forums for legitimate political debate.”
According to The New York Times, the removed accounts included Right Wing News — a page that sometimes spread fake news with a right-wing slant — as well as the left-wing pages Resistance and Reverb Press.
The activity echoes the actions of Russia during the 2016 US election, when it attempted to influence American politics using a coordinated campaign of fake accounts that spread hoaxes and misleading information.
Facebook said it looked at the behavior of the accounts, rather than the content posted, in its decision to ban them.
“Today, these networks increasingly use sensational political content — regardless of its political slant — to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites, earning money for every visitor to the site. And like the politically motivated activity we’ve seen, the ‘news’ stories or opinions these accounts and Pages share are often indistinguishable from legitimate political debate,” Gleicher wrote. “This is why it’s so important we look at these actors’ behavior— such as whether they’re using fake accounts or repeatedly posting spam — rather than their content when deciding which of these accounts, Pages or Groups to remove.”
A Facebook spokesperson did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for clarification on the sources of the accounts and details of the accounts themselves.
Some critics have attacked Facebook on the timing on the removals, coming just weeks before the US midterm elections.
“Early voting is already happening in some states, and Election Day is a few weeks away, so it’s especially inexcusable that Facebook is only now deleting political disinformation pages. Facebook has long been aware of the presence and activities of these pages but did nothing until the company sensed a potential public relations disaster as reporters started working on stories about right-wing networks intentionally promoting misinformation through their operation of these pages,” Angelo Carusone, president of media watchdog Media Matters, said in a statement.
“So, while it’s a good thing that Facebook is finally taking this action, it’s yet another example that Facebook is not prepared to proactively meet the challenges of abuse and misinformation on its platform; instead, the platform does the bare minimum to respond to the latest PR crisis.”
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