Facebook removes hundreds of US political pages for ‘inauthentic activity’
Some accounts were fake or ad farms pretending to be forums for political debate, company says
With less than one month left before the midterm elections, Facebook has announced it has removed 559 politically oriented pages and 251 accounts, all of American origin, for consistently breaking its rules against “spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior”.
The pages removed span the political spectrum.
According to a blogpost authored by Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, and product manager, Oscar Rodriguez, these pages were removed not due to their political content, but because they had violated the social network’s terms of service.
“Many were using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names and posted massive amounts of content across a network of Groups and Pages to drive traffic to their websites,” the post said. “Many used the same techniques to make their content appear more popular on Facebook than it really was. Others were ad farms using Facebook to mislead people into thinking that they were forums for legitimate political debate.”
The affected pages include Nation in Distress, Reverb Press, Reasonable People Unite, The Resistance, Right Wing News and Snowflakes. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the pages were among those removed, but said it would not release a complete list.
Edward Lynn, editor-in-chief at Reverb Press, found out his page had been removed when he read a news story about it this morning. He hotly disputes Facebook’s claims that his site is “inauthentic”.
“We are a legitimate news publisher,” he said. “We are not fake news. We are not misinformation. We are not foreign. We are simply a small independent news publication trying to grow.”
Lynn said that, prior to his becoming editor-in-chief this year, some people affiliated with Reverb shared its content on Facebook using “backup accounts” to avoid being targeted by conservative opponents and “being sent to Facebook jail”.
But he said his writers no longer followed that practice. He also said Reverb published content across multiple pages and shared it with other left-leaning sites, but added that this was common on social media.
“Go read any social media expert’s advice and they all say to share on more than one page or platform,” he says. “That’s the social media playbook. It’s a standard practice, and it’s being used as an excuse for censorship.”
Lynn says he plans to appeal against the decision to remove his page, but isn’t confident Facebook will respond.
The news comes on the heels of another, apparently unrelated crackdown on the Russian database provider SocialDataHub for allegedly scraping personal information from Facebook accounts.
According to a statement released by Facebook, 66 SocialDataHub accounts, profiles, pages and apps have been removed from the social network, and more may be disabled later as they are uncovered.
On SocialDataHub’s English language website, it claims to have collected data on 147 million users taken from “open sources, blogs, forums and mass media, RSS and ads” as well as mobile apps. It also claims it has the ability to capture new information within five minutes of it appearing on the internet.
When asked for comment, SocialDataHub released a statement from its CEO, Artur Khachuyan, detailing the company’s work with banks and government entities in applying artificial intelligence to unstructured data. He said his company only obtained information from Russian Facebook accounts, which he said was legal under Russian law.
He added that “among the disconnected accounts, there were students who actually carried out web scraping, but all the data was deleted by them, and the logs were provided by Facebook. We are waiting for the speedy unlocking of our accounts … Not all Russian hackers are actually Russian hackers.”