Written by Joe Warminsky
Facebook says it shut down dozens of accounts, pages and groups intended to “engage in hate speech and spread divisive comments on both sides of the political debate” in the United Kingdom and in Romania.
It’s the latest announcement in the social media giant’s campaign to reduce “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on sites that it owns. In a news release Thursday, the company said 23 pages, 74 Facebook accounts, 5 groups, and 35 Instagram accounts were affected in the U.K. sweep. A separate four pages, 26 Facebook accounts, and one group were shut down in Romania.
“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,” Facebook said.
The company did not specify who ran the operations. The perpetrators’ general goal in the U.K. was political disruption, Facebook said, given that in some cases, they posted information at the opposite poles of an issue.
“The individuals behind these accounts represented themselves as far-right and anti-far-right activists, frequently changed Page and Group names, and operated fake accounts to engage in hate speech and spread divisive comments on both sides of the political debate in the UK,” Facebook said. “Despite their misrepresentation of their identities, we found that these Pages, Groups and accounts were connected.”
Discord was also the goal in Romania, Facebook said, but was generally geared in favor of the country’s ruling party.
“The Page admins and account owners typically posted about local news and political issues, including partisan news under fictitious bylines in support of the Social Democratic Party (PSD),” the company said. “They also shared divisive narratives and promoted content hosted by several domains that present themselves as news sites. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our manual review found that some of this activity was linked to an individual associated with the PSD.”
Thursday’s announcement follows similar Facebook actions in Moldova, the Middle East and elsewhere since the beginning of 2019. The company calls it an “ongoing challenge” that it is addressing along with law enforcement, security experts and other companies.
“We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people,” Facebook said. “We’re taking down these Pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted. In each of these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.”
Disinformation on social media has been a prominent theme at this week’s RSA cybersecurity conference in San Francisco. China was cited for a late-2018 state-media campaign aimed at Americans, and an official for Twitter said it has made strides in identifying bots.