Facebook has removed hundreds of fake accounts, groups, pages and Instagram profiles for engaging in what it called “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”.
- Facebook has removed fake accounts producing locally relevant content, including for Australia
- The company began to investigate West Papua accounts in light of recent violence
- UAE-based pages promoted anti-Iran and anti-Qatar messages
It removed a total of 443 Facebook accounts and 125 Instagram accounts across Indonesia, Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, the company said in a statement.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said there were “networks of accounts” created “to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing”.
The accounts typically posted content localised for a specific country or region, including Australia, often directing users to off-platform sites.
Posts were both in support of the West Papua independence movement and critical of it. (Supplied: Facebook)
Amid recent violence in Indonesia’s Papua and West Papua provinces, Facebook removed 69 Facebook accounts, 42 pages and 34 Instagram accounts posting “domestic-focused” content about the restive eastern region.
Posts were both in English and Indonesian, sharing content both in support of and criticising the West Papua independence movement.
Facebook said while those behind the activity had attempted to conceal their identities, a company investigation had found links to Indonesian media company InsightID.
Some $US300,000 ($444,000) had been spent on Facebook ads to promote the pages’ posts, paid mostly in Indonesian rupiah.
Deadly riots in Wamena, Papua last week killed dozens and displaced thousands. (Reuters: Sevianto Pakiding via Antara Foto)
“This was a network of pages designed to appear like local media organisations and advocacy organisations,” David Agranovich, Facebook’s global lead for threat disruption, told Reuters.
The Facebook pages had almost 500,000 followers and some 120,000 accounts followed at least one of the Instagram accounts.
Riots last month in the town of Wamena in Papua saw at least 33 people killed — mostly non-ethnic Papuans — dozens injured, and many more displaced.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Monday he would be willing to meet with Papuan leaders who were in favour of a pro-independence referendum.
In light of renewed violence, Indonesia’s Government has at times slowed internet access in the Papua region to “stop the spread of misinformation”.
Journalist Benjamin Strick last month exposed a network of Twitter bots spreading pro-Government messaging with the hashtags #WestPapua and #FreeWestPapua.
“It’s trying to distort the truth of what’s really happening on the ground in West Papua,” he told the ABC.
Other fake accounts promoted content about the UAE and Middle Eastern politics. (Supplied: Facebook)
Facebook also said it had removed a range of pages promoting criticism of Iran, Turkey and Qatar.
It linked the activity to three marketing firms — Charles Communications in UAE, MintReach in Nigeria, and Flexell in Egypt.
Europe’s top court this week ruled Facebook can be ordered to police and remove illegal content worldwide, a ruling the social media giant said could threaten freedom of speech.