Facebook on Thursday announced it has removed hundreds of pages and accounts as the company cracks down on spam. The move comes at a time when Facebook is under intense scrutiny about how it handles misinformation, particularly as the U.S. midterm elections draw near.
The company said it has collectively removed more than 800 pages and accounts showing “inauthentic behavior;” that is, making moves to mislead users about who they are and what they are doing. That could include anything from using the profile to send spam or post comments created to stir up political debate, to money-motivated ad farms disguising themselves as forums for discussion.
“Today, we’re removing 559 pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at the social network, in a Thursday post. “Given the activity we’ve seen — and its timing ahead of the U.S. midterm elections — we wanted to give some details about the types of behavior that led to this action.”
Gleicher stressed that Facebook looked at accounts’ behavior – such as repeatedly posting spam – rather than their content when deciding which accounts, pages or groups to remove.
He said that legitimate reasons do exist for accounts coordinating with one another – including fundraising campaigns – but the motivations of these banned accounts instead seem to be mostly economic or politically-driven.
“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,” said Gleicher. “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.”
Facebook did not respond to a request for further comment from Threatpost on which pages were banned. But among the accounts that were reportedly removed include Right Wing News, which had a whopping 3.6 million likes. That page pegged itself as “The best conservative news, views, and interviews.” Interestingly, it appears as though the page’s Instagram account is still active – though its Twitter account appears to be suspended.
Other reportedly banned pages include Snowflakes (a page which had 599,380 likes), Nation in Distress (3,212,905 likes), Reverb Press (816,655 likes), Reasonable People Unite (332,608 likes) and the Resistance (316,429 likes).
James Reader, managing editor at one of those banned pages, Reverb Press, argued on Friday that the page did not post fake news: “We have always stood up to fact-checking. Left-leaning, yes. But fake news? NEVER,” he said in a Tweet.
so .@facebook basically killed my business, and singled .@ReverbPress out as a bad publisher out of 800 pages on both sides of the aisle, for severely bullshit reasons. we have always stood up to fact-checking. left leaning, yes. but fake news? NEVER. google us. #FuckFacebook
— James Reader (@JamesReader_RP) October 12, 2018
Reverb Press also appeared to be suspended on Twitter.
Since Facebook came under criticism for how it collects and uses personal data, as well as how it has dealt with accounts peddling fake news and misinformation in the past, the social media giant has been more carefully tracking accounts.
Facebook’s action also comes a month before the November midterm elections – while all eyes are on Facebook to see how it protects against those attempting to sway users’ political leanings with false or misleading statements.
It’s not the first crackdown – In July, Facebook said that it removed 32 pages from its platform involved in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” At the time the social media giants said it identified the coordinated efforts on eight Facebook Pages and 17 profiles on Facebook, as well as seven Instagram accounts. Facebook said that the earliest page was created in March 2017, while the latest was created in May 2018. The most-followed Facebook Pages banned during that crackdown included “Aztlan Warriors,” “Black Elevation,” “Mindful Being” and “Resisters.”
Then in August, it made a 652-page dent in a sizable alleged Iran-backed influence campaign that stretches back to 2017, with some pages in operation since 2013. The accounts were active on both Facebook and Instagram, where the bad actors were using false social media personas to promote a mix of both original content, memes and news articles appropriated, and sometimes altered, from other sources. The narratives included anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes, as well as support for specific U.S. policies favorable to Iran, such as the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA).