Facebook removed five accounts, seven pages and three groups, run by individuals associated with the Chinese government, and which frequently posted content on political issues such as the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The Facebook pages were followed by more than 15,000 accounts, the company said. “The individuals behind this campaign,” the social media firm said, “engaged in a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake accounts — frequently posting about local political news and issues including the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.”

Facebook also shared some screenshots of the content that was being spread by the aforementioned accounts, pages and groups. These posts show protestors in Hong Kong in bad light, with some of them calling “cockroaches” and comparing them to Islamic State terrorists.

Translation: Cockroach soldiers | Courtesy: Facebook

Facebook’s investigation into the issue began after it received a tip from Twitter, where certain accounts posing as news media outlets were posting content with the aim of undermining the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. Twitter, meanwhile, has announced that it will be banning state-controlled news outlets from advertising on the platform. Unlike Twitter, Facebook hasn’t announced any ban on advertisements.

Multiple reports are saying that China-backed news outlets have upped the ante in advertising on social media platform, Twitter and Facebook, in particular to present protestors in Hong Kong as a public enemy. According to a BuzzFeed report, Chinese outlet CGTN posted an advertisement on Facebook showcasing four Hong Kong politicians as taking orders from the US and directing the youth to flood the streets. The ad meanwhile also said that these politicians were enjoying at high-end restaurants and none of their children had joined the protest. The same report also noted that CGTN had dozens of ads on Facebook targeted at users in the US showing that foreign influence is a major reason behind the protests in Hong Kong.

Facebook has removed accounts and pages for spreading misinformation in a coordinated way before

This isn’t the first time that Facebook has suspended accounts, pages and groups that are found to be disseminating misinformation. This is also not the first time that state-backed entities posing as news outlets are spreading misinformation on social media platforms. Before this:

  • Facebook removed multiple pages, groups and accounts originating from Thailand, Russia, Ukraine and Honduras for being involved in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” on the platform and Instagram in July this year. The company purged these accounts following an internal investigation along with help from local security forces in these areas in certain cases.
  • In May, Facebook took down multiple Russian pages, groups, and accounts on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook found that these pages focused on Ukraine and posted content relating to Eastern Ukraine, Russian politics, political news in Europe, politics in Ukraine and the Syrian civil war.
  • In April, Facebook 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).”