Facebook has taken down hundreds of Facebook and Instagram Pages and accounts after two separate coordinated campaigns were discovered attempting to influence user behavior in Iraq and Ukraine.
It’s possible that the fake news operations were an attempt to peddle misinformation ahead of elections in the Middle East nation last year and in the eastern European country a few months ago.
The social network removed 76 Facebook accounts, 120 Pages, one Group, two Events and seven Instagram accounts linked to “coordinated unauthentic behavior” in Iraq. One of more of the Pages managed to garner around 1.6 million followers while 339,000 accounts followed at least one of the groups, it said.
“The people behind this activity used fake accounts to amplify their content and manage Pages — some of which were likely purchased,” explained Facebook head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher.
“Many of these Pages merged with one another and changed names over time. They also impersonated other people and used their IDs to conceal their identity and attempt to avoid detection and removal.”
The content itself was largely critical of the US occupation and pro-Saddam Hussein, according to an analysis by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab).
A much bigger operation was taken down in Ukraine, where Facebook was forced to remove 168 accounts, 149 Pages and 79 Groups. Around 4.2 million accounts followed one or more of these Pages and around 401,000 accounts joined at least one of the Groups, while a whopping $1.6 million was spent on Facebook and Instagram ads, the social network revealed.
Facebook linked the activity to Ukrainian PR firm Pragmatico, despite attempts to conceal its involvement.
“The people behind this activity used fake accounts to manage Groups and a number of Pages — some of which changed their names over time, and also to increase engagement, disseminate content and drive people to off-platform sites posing as news outlets,” explained Gleicher.
According to another DFRLab analysis, there may have been political intent behind this campaign, although it was also an attempt to build a national audience for media conglomerate Znaj Media Holdings, which is linked to Pragmatico.
“The pages primarily posted local Ukrainian news content, much of which was lifted from other Ukrainian news outlets with only partial attribution,” it concluded. “This network may have been partially politically motivated — some of the pages launched personal attacks against particular Ukrainian politicians — and partially commercial in nature.”