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Facebook Removes 687 ‘Inauthentic’ Pages Linked To Congress, 15 With Pro-BJP Content

Facebook Inc. said it has removed “inauthentic” pages and accounts linked to the Indian National Congress and a software services company Silver Touch in a crackdown on spam.

The social media giant—which has around 300 million users in India—removed 687 pages and accounts linked to the Congress due to “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. “We’re taking down these Pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted,” it said, adding that in each case, the people coordinated with each another and used fake accounts.

The pages had about about 206,000 followers and about $39,000 was spent for ads on Facebook, paid for in Indian rupees, according to the company’s statement. The first ad ran in August 2014 and the most recent ad ran in March 2019.

“The Page admins and account owners typically posted about local news and political issues, including topics like the upcoming elections, candidate views, the INC (Indian National Congress) and criticism of political opponents including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),” Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, said in a statement. While the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, Facebook’s review found that it was connected to individuals associated with an the Congress’ IT cell.

Some of the sample posts that were shared by Facebook alleged former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh of being involved in a land scam. Another said that Narendra Modi and the BJP, who were once critical of the job-guarantee scheme MGNREGA, are opposing the income transfer scheme NYAY.

The Congress tweeted that no official pages run by the party were taken down and awaits details from Facebook.

“Coordinated inauthenticated behaviour”, according to Gleicher, is when a group of people try to mislead others about who they are and what they are doing, and is not related to the content they share. In a video on Facebook, he explains the pages were removed in India as part of the company’s global crackdown. He said they could be removed for making it look like that they are run from one part of the world when they operate from another for ideological purposes, or for financial reasons like spammers making people click.

15 Pages, Groups With Pro-BJP Content

The social media giant also removed 15 pages, groups and accounts that among other things, carried pro-BJP content, Facebook’s statement said citing posts. The accounts, linked to individuals associated with an Indian IT firm Silver Touch, had a much wider reach.

“About 2.6 million accounts followed this page, about 15,000 accounts joined this group, and around 30,000 accounts followed this Instagram account,” Facebook said in its statement. Around $70,000 was spend on Facebook, paid for in Indian rupees from June 2014 till February 2019.

“They posted about local news and political events, including topics like the Indian government, the upcoming elections, the BJP and alleged misconduct of political opponents including the INC (Congress),” the statement said. “Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found that this activity was linked to individuals associated with an Indian IT firm, Silver Touch.”

Two of the pages cited by Facebook praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for showing India’s missile capability to take down satellites, with one of them saying that what the UPA couldn’t do was made possible by Modi.

Silver Touch couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. BloombergQuint has sent an email to the company and awaits a response.

Facebook also removed 103 pages, groups and accounts on both Facebook and Instagram for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior as part of a network that originated in Pakistan. It removed another 321 pages and accounts in India that have broken rules governing spam and misrepresentation.

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