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Facebook deletes thousands of shady accounts

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Facebook has announced that it has removed thousands of accounts from Iran, Russia and other countries, some of which were involved with “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”.

In total, the social media company removed 2,632 pages, accounts and groups from Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram. These included 1,907 linked to Russia, 512 linked to Iran and 212 linked to Macedonia and Kosovo. The accounts had spent thousands of dollars on advertising across Facebook and Instagram.

Most of the Russia-linked accounts were deleted for posting spam or – to a lesser extent – due to their commentary on Ukrainian politics, including corruption and Russia’s widely-condemned annexation of Crimea. The Iran-linked accounts were found to be repeating messages from Iranian state media and inflaming tensions in the Middle East. These account owners represented themselves as locals, made-up media organisations, and impersonated real political groups and media organisations.

The remaining pages were removed for misrepresenting “political communities” in Anglophone countries, including attacks on anti-Brexit politicians in the UK.

Approximately 1.7 million users joined at least one of the Russia-linked groups and 1.4 million followed at least one of the Iranian pages.

According to Facebook, some of the accounts were linked to “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. The company added that the pages, groups and accounts were removed not due to their content, but due to their misleading behaviour. Facebook asserted that it had not identified connections between each activity, aside from similarities in tactics.

“We didn’t find any links between these sets of activities, but they used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing,” wrote Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cyber security policy, in a blog post. “We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our service to be used to manipulate people.

“While we are making progress rooting out this abuse, as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing challenge because the people responsible are determined and well-funded. We constantly have to improve to stay ahead. That means building better technology, hiring more people and working more closely with law enforcement, security experts and other companies.”

The company previously reported having to remove some accounts linked to Iran in January.

In the past two years, the extent to which misinformation shared on social media has influenced major democratic events like the 2016 US presidential election has been revealed through studies, newspaper reports, and lawmakers’ investigations. Facebook – as the world’s largest social media company – has been increasingly under pressure to confront accounts used to promote propaganda and extremist content, sometimes backed by state organisations like Russia’s Internet Research Agency.

While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially derided accusations that misinformation shared on the platform influenced the 2016 presidential election as “crazy”, he has since acknowledged that the company was slow to confront the problem. Facebook has since hired thousands of extra content moderators to review reported content. In January, Facebook brought its fact-checking initiative to the UK, partnering with Full Fact, an independent charity, to review posts flagged by users and rate them based on their accuracy.

Facebook’s efforts to curb fake news have been criticised by the EU as insufficient, while a UK parliamentary report called on social media companies to be regulated, condemning fake news on social media as a “threat to democracy”.

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