Facebook pulls hundreds of US accounts spewing political disinformation

12 Oct 2018

Someone holding a tablet with Facebook open. Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos

As the US midterm elections approach, Facebook puts measures in place to combat false information.

The infiltration of inflammatory content masquerading as verified news stories on social media is a phenomenon that the platforms themselves are still trying to curtail.

While companies have been dealing with the repercussions stemming from the 2016 US presidential election, many have also been employing new strategies to avoid issues in the midterm elections this November.

Major page purge

Facebook is one such company, as it announced yesterday (11 October) that it had shut down 559 pages and 251 accounts in the US for flouting its anti-spam regulations. Some of the pages were producing identical pieces of content and many of the people behind them used fake profiles to hide the fact they were acting in coordinated ways.

While the company didn’t name any of the publishers and accounts it had removed, The Washington Post cited a number of examples, including ‘Reverb Press’ and ‘Nation in Distress’. Facebook said it was not taking issue with the nature of the content posted, but rather the account behaviours. The company said that the pages had used inappropriate methods to artificially grow their audience. It said the accounts were shut for having “consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behaviour”.

According to The New York Times, one of the pages, ‘Right Wing News’, posted false information about Dr Christine Blasey Ford after she testified at the Brett Kavanaugh hearings recently.

Facebook wants people to feel safe

The company added: “People will only share on Facebook if they feel safe and trust the connections they make here.” Facebook explained that the pages and profiles falsely inflate engagement by posting clickbait posts to many groups in a short period, drumming up traffic for their websites in what is essentially ad farming.

Two of the page operators said they were legitimate political activists and were unsure what rules they had violated to have their pages removed.

Facebook said: “Of course, there are legitimate reasons that accounts and pages coordinate with each other – it’s the bedrock of fundraising campaigns and grassroots organisations.

“But the difference is that these groups are upfront about who they are, and what they’re up to.”

Someone holding a tablet with Facebook open. Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects