Facebook seeks outside help as part of latest fake account purge

22 Aug 2018

The Facebook app on a smartphone. Image: Silver Wings SS/Shutterstock

Facebook has revealed that hundreds of fake accounts have been purged from the platform, thanks to a tip from a cybersecurity firm.

After months of public questioning and a demand for action, Facebook has revealed the kill list of its latest purge against the proliferation of ‘fake news’ or, as it calls it, “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”.

The social network said in a blogpost that it has now removed 652 pages, groups and accounts on both Facebook and its sister platform, Instagram.

The focus of this concerted effort to sway people to a particular way of thinking was led primarily by Iran and Russia, the post said. Those who orchestrated it were clearly looking westward as all campaigns were waged in the Middle East, Latin America, the UK and the US.

While no link was discovered between the various campaigns, Facebook said all of those removed appeared to follow the same tactics book.

The numbers involved

What’s notable, however, is that Facebook’s actions were spurred on by a tip made in July from cybersecurity firm FireEye about a network of Facebook pages called Liberty Front Press, linked to Iranian state media.

As an example of one such link, a self-proclaimed independent news network called Quest 4 Truth was shown to be working with the Iranian state’s English language news network, Press TV.

In terms of numbers, those behind the campaign spent more than $6,000 on Facebook adverts to spread its series of memes and articles over a period of more than three years.

In that time, Liberty Front Press had garnered 155,000 followers on at least one of its pages, with an additional 48,000 accounts on Instagram.

A screenshot of two memes. One showing Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump embracing, the other showing fake Brexit postal stamps.

Sample Facebook posts from a page called ‘The British Left’, used as a front by Liberty Front Press. Image: Facebook

‘Our adversaries are sophisticated and well funded’

Turning to Russia, the company said that it has now removed groups and accounts the US government had identified as being linked with Russian military intelligence services.

On a call with journalists, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg said: “As I have said before, security is not something that you ever fully solve.

“Our adversaries are sophisticated and well funded, and we have to constantly keep improving to stay ahead.”

FireEye’s manager of information operations analysis, Lee Foster, said to The Washington Post that the influence of Iran was important to note.

“It’s significant in that it shows it’s not just Russia that’s engaged in this activity,” he said.

“This demonstrates that there are other actors out there who appear to see value in engaging in such activity to shape political discourse.”

The Facebook app on a smartphone. Image: Silver Wings SS/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic