Facebook targets conspiracy groups

 

The world's biggest social media site has removed several accounts and pages it said are spreading conspiracy theories as part of "co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour".

In a statement released on Tuesday, Facebook said it had removed the accounts as part of its ongoing efforts to "find and stop co-ordinated campaigns that seek to manipulate public debate across our apps".

Facebook, which has more than 2.5 billion users and also owns popular platforms WhatsApp and Instagram, has more than 200 people in its "cross-disciplinary" team that targets "inauthentic behaviour".

Co-ordinated Inauthentic Behaviour (CIB) covers the usual spam posts, as well as "sophisticated influence operations aimed to manipulate public debate".

The company regularly reports CIB take-downs when they relate to the more sophisticated operations.

For more routine take-downs, like those for spam, Facebook doesn't bother with the reports.

"We view influence operations as co-ordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal where fake accounts are central to the operation," Facebook said in its report.

In April, Facebook removed a total of eight networks, made up of 732 accounts on Facebook and 162 on Instagram.

A total of 793 pages were removed and 200 groups.

The networks were located in Russia, Iran, the USA, Mauritania, Myanmar and Georgia.

One of the two networks in the US, made up of five pages, 20 accounts and six groups, was linked to the QAnon network that spreads "fringe conspiracy theories" about a "deep state" plot against US President Donald Trump.

According to QAnon believers, a secret cabal of Democratic party politicians, Hollywood actors, and high-ranking government officials (who they also accuse of being paedophiles and cannibals) are in control of the government and the media, but are on the verge of being exposed following the re-election of Mr Trump.

The FBI has designated QAnon as a potential breeding ground for domestic terrorism and

Facebook alleges the network it has since removed used fake accounts to engage with their own content, making it seem more popular than it is.

The company noted the campaign didn't appear to be financially motivated, but that some had tried to monetise the "clickbait content" through T-shirts and other merchandise.

The pages and groups had a combined audience of around 163,000 accounts.

 

Some of the members of the network tried to monetise it by selling ‘tees’.
Some of the members of the network tried to monetise it by selling ‘tees’.

Some of the content posted on the accounts included calls for followers to "unite" for the purpose of "World War 3", which will be "humans versus the government".

Another post included a 55-minute documentary from vocally anti-China news outlet The Epoch Times, which was reshared to a QAnon page where followers were told it was "the first documentary movie on the CCP virus" and the "media isn't showing you this".

Facebook recently slapped a fact-check on that documentary after analysis from its third-party fact checkers determined it contained false information.

An example of one of the posts by a page in the network linked to QAnon.
An example of one of the posts by a page in the network linked to QAnon.

Another US group taken down spent $US114,000 ($A177,000) on Facebook ads to promote posts from its network of 19 pages, 15 accounts and a group.

The pages had more than 207,000 followers, and "most recently" had been posting "COVID-19-related conspiracies and hate speech about Asian Americans".

Facebook's investigation linked the network to VDARE, an anti-immigration website started, by an immigrant, and described as a white nationalist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre.

Examples of posts linked to an anti-immigration network Facebook has removed.
Examples of posts linked to an anti-immigration network Facebook has removed.

 

Another network in Myanmar that criticised the persecuted Rohingya-minority while talking-up the success of national police and military was deemed inauthentic over links to the Myanmar Police Force that the network tried to conceal.

A Russian network consisting of 46 Pages, 91 accounts, two groups, and an Instagram account was also removed after being judged as CIB on behalf of a foreign entity.

The network posted about topics like military conflict in Ukraine, the Syrian civil war, the annexation of Crimea, NATO, US elections, and more recently the coronavirus pandemic, to a combined audience of around 270,000.

Another foreign interference network was detected in Iran, with ties to the Islamic Republic's state broadcaster.

That group used fake accounts featuring popular names in the countries it targeted, as well as posing as local NGOs and news outlets in those areas too.

All of the networks had also recently shifted their focus to COVID-19 conspiracies, with the exception of the Iran network and one of the networks in Georgia, which appears to have been set up to influence the 2018 Georgia elections and has been largely inactive since.

Originally published as Facebook targets conspiracy groups