- Facebook said it had removed 687 pages and accounts linked to Congress
- Move against "coordinated inauthentic behaviour", days before elections
- "No official pages run by party have been taken down," Congress clarified
Social media giant Facebook said today that it had removed nearly 700 pages and accounts linked to the Congress party just days before the April-May national election, because of "coordinated inauthentic behaviour".
Facebook said it also banned some accounts linked to an Indian company "associated with" a mobile app promoted by the BJP, news agency Reuters reported. Such action is rare against a mainstream party by Facebook in a country where it has 300 million users.
Facebook said the 687 accounts it has removed were linked to "individuals associated with the IT cell of Congress". The accounts were part of a coordinated network and were removed not based on content or fake news but for "inauthentic behaviour" and for pushing spam, it said.
The Congress tweeted that no official page was taken down.
This is to clarify no official pages run by INC have been taken down. Additionally, all pages run by our verified volunteers are also unaffected.- Congress (@INCIndia) April 1, 2019
In the mean time, we are awaiting a response from Facebook to provide us a list of all pages/accounts that they have taken down.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad described it as a "historical" development. "When an inquiry was done, it was found that those individuals were linked to Congress IT cell. Congress is desperate therefore resorting to these types of dubious means to claim support but people are sure of what they have seen of the Narendra Modi government," he said.
Facebook's Head of Cybersecurity Policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, told reporters that a network of fake accounts was being used to conceal the identity of those behind the pages. "When we remove one of these networks, the reason we remove them is because of their coordinated inauthentic behaviour, that they are using network of fake accounts to conceal their identity... to mislead who's behind them," he told reporters.
"We are constantly working to detect and stop coordinated inauthentic behaviour because we don't want our services to be used to manipulate people," Mr Gleicher added.
Facebook, facing data breach allegations, has been ramping up efforts to ensure that its platforms (that includes WhatsApp and Instagram) aren't misused to spread misinformation, especially ahead of polls in India.
It recently started providing details of political ads and is also strengthening its system of fact checkers and technology tools to flag fake news.
Ahead of the elections, the government had warned social media platforms of strong action if any attempt was made to influence the country's electoral process.
Mr Gleicher said: "We have reached out to the Congress to educate them about what we have seen and answer questions they have. We have also reached out to policy makers and government to ensure that they understand the types of behaviour we are seeing and what we are learning".
In a blog post, Facebook said the pages and accounts removed had spent around $39,000 for ads on the social networking site, paid in rupees.
Separately, Facebook has also removed 15 pages, groups and accounts for engaging in "coordinated inauthentic behaviour" on Facebook and Instagram. These were linked to individuals associated with an Indian IT firm, Silver Touch.
These account owners used a combination of authentic and fake accounts to share their content like local news and political events, including topics like the government, the upcoming elections, the BJP and alleged "misconduct" of political opponents including the Congress.
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