Facebook said on Monday it removed 687 pages and accounts linked to India’s main opposition Congress party because of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” on the social media platform. The company wrote in a blog post: “We removed 687 Facebook Pages and accounts that engaged in coordinated inauthentic behaviour in India and were linked to individuals associated with an IT Cell of the Indian National Congress (INC).” India’s staggered general election is scheduled to begin on April 11 and end on May 19.

Facebook said the individuals behind this activity used fake accounts, the majority of which had already been detected and suspended by its automated systems, and joined various groups to disseminate their content and increase engagement on their own pages.

The page admins and account owners typically posted about local news and political issues, Facebook said, including the upcoming elections, candidate views, the Congress, and criticism of political opponents including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “While the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review found that it was connected to individuals associated with an INC IT Cell,” the company wrote.

The company put up samples of the content posted by some of the pages, while clarifying that it had removed them because of their behaviour, not the content they posted.

Had two lakh followers, spent Rs 27 lakh on ads

Facebook also provided the following information about the 687 pages and accounts in its blog post:

  • Presence on Facebook: 138 pages and 549 Facebook accounts.
  • Followers: About 206,000 accounts followed one or more of these pages.
  • Advertising: Around $39,000 (approx Rs 27 lakh) in spending for ads on Facebook, paid for in Indian rupees. The first ad ran in August 2014 and the most recent ad ran in March 2019.

Four takedowns in a day

Removing the Congress-linked pages and accounts was one of four separate takedowns — each distinct and unconnected — that Facebook conducted today. It also:

  • Removed 103 pages, groups and accounts on Facebook and Instagram for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour as part of a network that originated in Pakistan.
  • Removed 15 Facebook pages, groups and accounts that engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior in India and were linked to individuals associated with an Indian IT firm, Silver Touch.
  • Removed 321 Facebook pages and accounts in India that broke its rules against spam. The company clarified: “Unlike the first three actions, this last activity does not represent a single or coordinated operation — instead, these are multiple sets of Pages and accounts that behaved similarly and violated our policies.”