Last month, Election Commission (EC) of India held talks with technology giants such as Google, Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, among others to discuss the efforts of the latter to curb the spread of misinformation, hate speeches, propaganda posts on social media channels ahead of impending Lok Sabha 2019 election.
In the meeting, EC also outlined rules for candidates on the model code of conduct and also get certification on posting paid ads on social media platforms. If flagged, the contents should be removed within a particular time frame by the concerned media firms or else face EC action.
Now, Facebook has announced that it has removed 687 pages and accounts associated with Indian National Congress (INC) IT cell for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour. Basically, it used fake accounts for mudslinging opponents with inaccurate facts and spamming the social media platform.
"The individuals behind this activity used fake accounts, the majority of which had already been detected and suspended by our automated systems, and joined various Groups to disseminate their content and increase engagement on their own Pages. The Page admins and account owners typically posted about local news and political issues, including topics like the upcoming elections, candidate views, the INC and criticism of political opponents including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review found that it was connected to individuals associated with an INC IT Cell," Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy, Facebook said in the official blog post.
INC's IT cell had 138 pages and 549 Facebook accounts with more than 206,000 followers. It apparently spent close to $39,000 (US) on ads between August 2014 and March 2019.
Facebook also shared snapshots of fake accounts. For instance, a post-caption-said "Rahul Gandhi's callout for 'Justice' against Modi's 'Injustice." And inside the image, it read—"If a person's income is 5,000 rupees, then Congress government will credited Rupees 7,000 in his account". This is apparently related to Congress's recent announcement about minimum income plan, which envisages that every citizen will be offered cash subsidies up to Rs 72,000 per annum to people belonging to Below Poverty Line (BPL).
In another graphic post, Congress blames BJP of throwing out tribal people from forests of Chattisgarh- Caption: Local Tribal's lands were invaded and donated amongst the 10-15 of his friends. Corruption won't be tolerated anymore. Uproot and throw Raman Government.
Video Text: The elaborate poetry of the caption mentioned above alleging the CM of Chattisgarh for the crime.
After getting corned over the suspension of INC affiliated pages and accounts on Facebook, Congress has responded to the critics on social media platform.
"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.
In the meantime, we are awaiting a response from Facebook to provide us a list of all pages/accounts that they have taken down", INC said on Twitter
Not just INC, rival Bharatiya Janata Party too faced the wrath of Facebook
Facebook separately removed 15 pages, groups and accounts managed by firm Silver Touch, which include 1 Page, 12 Facebook accounts, 1 Group and 1 Instagram account. The company 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 It had more than 2.6 million followers and recently, about 15,000 accounts joined this Group, and around 30,000 accounts followed this Instagram account. Around $70,000 in spending for ads on Facebook, paid for in Indian rupees. The first advertisement ran in June 2014 and the most recent ad ran in Feb 2019.
Facebook also took down 103 pages, groups and accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour on Facebook and Instagram as part of a network that originated in Pakistan.
The individuals behind this activity used fake accounts to operate military fan Pages; general Pakistani interest Pages; Kashmir community Pages; and hobby and news Pages. They also frequently posted about local and political news including topics like the Indian government, political leaders and military. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found that it was linked to employees of the ISPR (Inter-Service Public Relations) of the Pakistani military.
- Presence on Facebook and Instagram: 24 Pages, 57 Facebook accounts, 7 Groups and 15 Instagram accounts.
- Followers: About 2.8 million accounts followed one or more of these Pages, about 4,700 accounts joined at least one of these groups, and around 1,050 accounts followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.
- Advertising: Around $1,100 in spending for ads on Facebook paid for in US dollars and Pakistani rupees. The first ad ran in May 2015 and the most recent ad ran in December 2018.