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Facebook deleted accounts in India-Pakistan for inauthentic behaviour

02 April, 2019

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Facebook has deleted 712 accounts and 390 pages in India and Pakistan for ‘inauthentic behaviour’, it said on Monday, many of them linked to India’s opposition Congress party days before a general election, and others related to Pakistan’s military.

Facebook has come under increasing pressure around the world to ensure its social media platform is not abused for political purposes or to spread misinformation, especially ahead of elections.

The action against accounts with alleged links to Congress, the party led by the Gandhi family that has dominated Indian politics for much of the post-independence era, marks a bold move by Facebook, especially given it has more than 300 million users in India.

Facebook is a key political campaigning tool in India’s election – the largest democratic exercise in the world – which starts on April 11. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his rivals use official Facebook accounts to send political messages to millions of followers, thousands of unverified pages also share posts to support or criticize politicians.

Among the most significant things it has removed, Facebook said it had taken down 549 accounts and 138 pages linked to India’s Congress for ‘coordinated inauthentic behaviuor’.

Facebook said it also banned 15 accounts linked to an Indian company named Silver Touch. The head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, Nathaniel Gleicher, said the company was ‘associated with’ a mobile app promoted by Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

BJP’s IT head, Amit Malviya, late on Monday said both the party and the app have ‘nothing to do with Silver Touch’.

In a tweet the Congress party said none of its official pages or those run by its verified volunteers have been taken down. The party is awaiting a response from Facebook to provide a list of all pages and accounts which have been removed, it said.

The Digital Forensic Research Lab at the international affairs think tank Atlantic Council, which partnered with Facebook for the review, said the accounts linked to India’s Congress pushed satirical posts, while pro-BJP pages ‘carried vitriolic posts against opposition leaders’. “The fact that partisans on both sides resorted to such tactics is a troubling feature,” the think tank said in a blog post.

In Pakistan, Facebook removed 57 accounts, 24 pages, seven groups and 15 Instagram accounts, also for inauthentic behaviour, as part of a network which originates in Pakistan and is allegedly linked to employees of a unit of the Pakistani military. Facebook said it removed pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram that spread information about Pakistani politics, the Indian government and the Pakistani military. Those accounts were being run by employees of a unit of the Pakistani military, Facebook said. These Pakistani accounts, pages, groups and Instagram accounts removed from Facebook had more than 2.8 million followers.

Facebook’s Gleicher said in a statement that Facebook has removed accounts based on their behavior, not on their content. Facebook has been taking similar measures elsewhere around the world. Last week it removed a social media network in the Philippines and took the unusual step of linking it to a businessman who said he had managed the president’s online election campaign in 2016.

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