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Facebook has always been at the centre of controversies, especially for its role in country elections. And it is the election season again with US polls just around the corner and concerns are at prime regarding foreign interference. Reports had already speculated that Russia and China have been actively meddling in the 2020 US elections results and now evidence of social media propaganda by both these countries has come to the fore.

Facebook, in a detailed post titled "Removing Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior" on Thursday, said that it managed to remove over 100 networks of coordinated inauthentic behaviour from the platform. The social media giant found that the networks targeted many countries, but they managed to disrupt them early on as the reach was very limited globally.

The networks Facebook took down was tasked with "creating fictitious or seemingly independent media entities and personas to engage unwitting individuals to amplify their content" and "driving people to other websites that these operations control."

China's deception, Facebook's vigilance

mark zuckerberg
Mark ZuckerbergReuters

The deceptive campaigns appeared to come locally in order to amplify pro-China messages over its control of the South China Sea and promoting leaders sympathetic to China's agendas. Facebook also identified fake accounts used to push messages that were both in support and in criticism of US President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

"The operation did not single out either candidate for preferential treatment. Many of the accounts in this phase of the operation were barely active," Graphika, an investigation firm commissioned by Facebook, said in its report.

These accounts were in operation since 2016 when they had been targeting Taiwan before the focus shifted to the Philippines in 2018 by posting messages in support of President Rodrigo Duterte and promoted Chinese regional influence. But in late 2019, the fake accounts started posting disinformation targeting the US audience. But the content was more on foreign policies than about elections, Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and former FBI special agent, said.

"They spend very little time talking about the election compared to Russia, and I think this was nothing more than, they're talking about defense and foreign policy," he said, citing the network's fixation on the South China Sea, where the U.S. and China have long been at odds.

Facebook said it has removed 155 Facebook accounts, 11 pages, 9 groups and 6 Instagram accounts in the latest crackdown. The campaign attracted more than 130,000 followers, most of which used VPN to conceal their foreign location. This crackdown comes just weeks after Facebook took down a network of accounts linked to Russia's Internet Research Agency, which was tasked with helping Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign.