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Facebook deletes hundreds of pages for 'malicious' activity from Iran, Indonesia

By
Nicholas Sakelaris
Facebook deleted several hundred pages and accounts this week with ties in Iran and Indonesia. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Facebook deleted several hundred pages and accounts this week with ties in Iran and Indonesia. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Facebook removed hundreds of accounts and pages because of "coordinated inauthentic behavior" from groups in Iran and Indonesia that spread media content as their own.

The pages misrepresented who they were and why they were sharing content that targeted people in the Middle East and South Asia, Facebook said on its website. The social media giant removed 262 pages, 356 accounts and three groups as well as 162 accounts on Facebook-owned photo-sharing network Instagram for the behavior tied to Iran.

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"We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don't want our services to be used to manipulate people," Facebook said in a statement about the Iran-linked accounts. "We're taking down these pages, groups and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they post."

Some of the activity dates to 2010, the company said.

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Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said in an Engadget report the removal effort had nothing to do with content or who was saying it. The problem is that they represented themselves as independent media outlets but they weren't. The content was sympathetic to the Iranian regime, much of it recycled from that country's state-run media.

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"We can see that they are controlled by operators from Iran," Gleicher said.

Facebook said it found a similar trend in Indonesia where 207 pages, 546 groups and 208 Instagram accounts were removed because of links to the Saracen Group, a fake news syndicate in that country.

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"In this case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action," Gleicher said in a separate statement.

At least one of the pages had nearly 2 million followers. One of the groups had 1,600 accounts following it and one of the Instagram accounts had 254,000 followers. The Iranian accounts spent less than $30,000 for advertising, though that is still under investigation. The social media accounts also advertised events, though it's not clear if those took place.

Facebook said it's investing in better technology that can monitor for type of activity.

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Twitter found a similar manipulation scheme coming from Iran in August. Twitter suspended 284 accounts for "coordinated manipulation." Since then, Twitter has suspended an additional 2,617 malicious accounts that it believes originated in Iran.

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