Facebook removes 3 networks interfering in US, Myanmar politics

One of the networks that was flagged to Facebook by the FBI is connected to the Iranian government.

Facebook has removed three malicious networks that used fake accounts to spread misinformation and sow doubt ahead of upcoming elections in the US and Myanmar.

Two of the networks targeted users in the US and were flagged to Facebook by the FBI, the social-media company revealed in a blog post Tuesday (October 27). These networks originated in South America and Iran.

The South America network was operated by individuals in Mexico and Venezuela, and used two dozen Pages/accounts to post in Spanish and English about news and current events in the US. Some of these accounts posed as Americans supporting various social and political causes, and followed, liked and occasionally commented on others people's posts to increase their own engagement.

The accounts posted about race relations and racial injustice, feminism and gender relations, environmental issues and religion, Facebook said. A small portion of this content included memes posted by the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) in the past.

An example of a post by the South America network

This network began creating accounts in April 2020. Facebook removed two Facebook Pages and 22 Instagram accounts associated with the network. By the time the accounts were removed, around 54,500 people followed one or more of the Instagram accounts (about 50% of which were in the US). The account with the highest following had under 15,000 followers.

The Iran-operated network was removed for "government interference"—which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a government entity.

The network of fake accounts was discovered after Facebook removed a single fake account last week, created in October 2020, that attempted to seed false claims and unsubstantiated election-related threats as part of an influence operation carried out primarily via email. A total of 12 Facebook accounts, six Facebook Pages and 11 Instagram accounts were uncovered as part of a network that focused primarily on Israel. 

The accounts, which Facebook said were largely inactive since May 2019, focused on Saudi Arabia’s activities in the Middle East and claims about an alleged massacre at the Eurovision song contest in Israel in 2019.

Facebook's investigation found connections to individuals associated with the Iranian government.

Facebook began investigating both the Iran and South America-operated networks after being alerted to their off-platform activity from the FBI.

The third network originated in and targeted domestic audiences in Myanmar. This network posted primarily in Burmese about current events in Rakhine state in Myanmar, including posts in support of the Arakan Army and criticism of Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s Armed forces.

A total of nine Facebook accounts, eight Pages, two Groups and two Instagram accounts were removed. Some of the pages and groups operated by the network had already been detected and disabled for violating Facebook's spam, terrorism and hate speech policies.

Facebook said the activity did not appear to be directly focused on the November elections in Myanmar, but the network was discovered as part of the platform's pre-election investigations.

Facebook removed all three networks for violating its policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB), which is defined as an organised campaign using fake accounts and personas as a central part of the operation to mislead users about who they are and what they are doing. The type of content posted by the networks is not investigated under this policy.

Facebook has removed more than 100 networks of coordinated inauthentic behaviour over the past three years.

The networks were "caught early in their operation" before they were able to build their audience, Facebook said.

In the blog post, Facebook's head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher said malicious actors often falsely claim they are more impactful than they are to undermine election integrity, suppress voter turnout or erode trust in the poll results.

"In recent weeks, government agencies, technology platforms and security experts have alerted the public to expect attempts to spread false information about the integrity of the election," Gleicher said.

"It’s important that we all stay vigilant, but also see these campaigns for what they are — small and ineffective. Overstating the importance of these campaigns is exactly what these malicious actors want, and we should not take the bait."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will appear before the US Senate Commerce Committee today (October 28) to defend a law that protects online businesses from moderating content that users create.

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