Facebook removes 800 accounts and pages for political spam, disinformation

Social network cracks down on spammers using political topics to drive traffic towards ad farms.
Written by Catalin Cimpanu, Contributor

Facebook removed today 559 Pages and 251 accounts that engaged in political spam and disinformation --or "inauthentic activity," as the company refers to this behavior.

The social network said spam is a regular problem on its platform. Bad actors create multiple accounts to post, vote, and promote their own content, which is usually a link to a third-party website.

Spammers abuse Facebook's system to make their spammy links look more authentic and rank higher in people's news feeds. Users who click these links land on a third-party website where the spam network operators load multiple ads to generate revenue in a scheme that Facebook described as an "ad farm."

Such spam networks have been active on Facebook for years, and the company says they've been usually focused on promoting fake sunglasses and weight loss products, or have used topics such as natural disasters or celebrity gossip to drive traffic towards their ad farms.

But things have changed in the past year.

"Today, these networks increasingly use sensational political content - regardless of its political slant - to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites," Facebook head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher and product manager Oscar Rodriguez wrote today in a blog post.

Facebook said it was removing these accounts not because of their political view or the content they promoted, but for the way they pushed their posts, through fake accounts and other inauthentic behavior.

"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," Gleicher and Rodriguez said about the removed accounts and Pages.

"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."

Facebook also said the incoming US midterm elections played a part in the company taking action today. The social network didn't reveal the names or the geographical location of the removed accounts and Pages.

According to the New York Times, which obtained a list of some of the removed accounts, some of the most popular Facebook Pages that were removed during today's purge include Resistance and Reverb Press, which had 240,000 and 816,000 followers, respectively.

ZDNet sister site CNET also reported today that Facebook also disabled 66 profiles and Pages for Social Data Hub, a Russian company that described itself as "Cambridge Analytica of Russia." This appears to be a different purge from the one announced by Facebook today.

Earlier this year, Facebook executed two other purges, removing accounts tied to Russian and Iranian social media influence campaigns.

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