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Facebook bans pages linked to telecom companies over alleged disinformation against competitors

In one of the first instances of Facebook taking action against a business for disinformation tactics, on February 12, the social media platform banned 10 pages and 13 fake accounts linked to Vietnamese and Myanmarese telecom providers Viettel and Mytel, after accusing the companies of discrediting competitors, and violating Facebook’s policy against coordinated inauthentic behaviour.

Facebook said that the banned fake pages were made to appear as an “independent telecoms consumer news hub”, but were actually full of accounts posing to be critical of the telecom companies’ rivals and were spreading unfounded claims of the competitors’ failures, market exits and fraudulent activity. The company added that the pages, followed by 265,600 accounts, were tied to about $1.2m worth of Facebook advertising.

Viettel, Vietnam’s biggest telecoms provider said that it is trying to verify the information given by Facebook and that employees and members, proven to be involved in this, will face full responsibility, Financial Times reported. The company is state-owned and is operated by the Ministry of Defense.

Facebook’s removals for political misinformation

On the same day, the social media company also removed more than a hundred Facebook and Instagram accounts, pages and groups for violating its policy against foreign or government interference. Facebook says that the fake accounts, allegedly linked to Russian military intelligence services and focused primarily on neighbouring countries, posted misleading content such as about military engagement in Syria, alleged SBU leaks related to ethnic tensions in Crimea, etc.

“In each of these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.” – Facebook said in the blog post

The company also banned 11 Facebook and Instagram accounts, originating in Iran, for foreign interference, primarily in the US. Facebook said that the people behind this used fake accounts to make posts focused on the US such as the US elections, Christianity, US-Iran relations, etc. Facebook has, in the past too, suspended accounts, pages, and groups that are found to be disseminating misinformation, mostly political.

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  • In September 2019, Facebook had removed 65 Facebook accounts and 35 Instagram accounts, connected to the Spanish political party Partido Popular, for “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”.
  • In August 2019, 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 protest in Hong Kong.
  • In July 2019, Facebook removed multiple pages, groups and accounts originating from Thailand, Russia, Ukraine and Honduras for being involved in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on the platform and Instagram. The company purged these accounts following an internal investigation along with help from local security forces in these areas in certain cases.
  • Facebook took down multiple Russian pages, groups, and accounts on Facebook and Instagram in May 2019. It 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 2019, Facebook removed 687 pages and accounts linked to India’s main opposition Congress party because of “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on the social media platform. The company wrote in a blog post: “We removed 687 Facebook Pages and accounts that engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior in India and were linked to individuals associated with an IT Cell of the Indian National Congress (INC).”

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