In the first such major crackdown announced publicly by Facebook, the social media giant has removed 687 pages and accounts linked to India’s oldest political party — the Indian National Congress. What is intriguing however, is the reason behind their removal. While Facebook generally removes such pages or accounts when people report the same, the Congress party pages/accounts have been removed due to their ‘inauthentic behavior’.

Explaining the removal, Facebook head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleichez said, “We removed 687 Facebook Pages and accounts — the majority of which had already been detected and suspended by our automated systems — that engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior in India and were linked to individuals associated with an IT Cell of the Indian National Congress (INC)”.

Besides these 687 pages, the social networking giant has 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. There however, has been no link that has been found to be associated with the two set of actions taken by Facebook.

What constitutes ‘inauthentic behavior’ ?

According to Facebook, in each of the cases mentioned above (both Pakistan and Congress party), the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves. That was the basis for the company’s action.

Additionally, in each of these cases, Facebook identified violating accounts and Pages through ongoing internal investigations into coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region ahead of the upcoming elections in India. The company has shared relevant information with policymakers and technology platforms.

What was wrong with Congress Party’s pages and content ?

As detailed by Facebook, the individuals behind this activity used fake accounts, the majority of which had already been detected and suspended by its 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 Congress party and criticism of political opponents including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, Facebook’s review found that it was connected to individuals associated with an INC IT Cell.

In terms of numbers, this is what these pages had amassed till date:

  • Presence on Facebook: 138 Pages and 549 Facebook accounts.
  • Followers: About 206,000 accounts followed one or more of these Pages.
  • Advertising: Around $39,000 USD in spending for ads on Facebook, paid for in Indian rupees. The first ad ran in August 2014 and the most recent ad ran in March 2019.

Facebook has also shared certain sample posts which violated its policies. Here are a few:

Caption: Rahul Gandhi’s callout for “Justice” against Modi’s “Injustice.”Image Text: If a person’s income is 5,000 rupees, then Congress government will credited Rupees 7,000 in his account.

Caption: They want us to get angry / Fight in the name of temple mosques / But we are not fighting! / That’s just their defeat…!!Image Text: They want us to get angry / Fight in the name of temple mosques / But we are not fighting! / That’s just their defeat…!!
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