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Facebook removes network of coordinated inauthentic behaviour linked to Indian digital marketing firm aRep Global

Facebook removed a network of 37 Facebook accounts, 32 Pages, 11 Groups and 42 Instagram accounts in India in February for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour. Facebook linked this network to aRep Global, an Indian digital marketing firm. All activity originated in India and focused on the Gulf region, the US, the UK and Canada. This was one of the 5 networks of coordinated inauthentic behaviour that Facebook removed last month, including the 3 networks in Russia, Iran, and Myanmar and Vietnam that it removed earlier in February. We have reached out to aRep Global for comment.

According to the detailed report, users in the Indian network used fake accounts to drive people to websites disguised as news outlets. The fake accounts posed as local to the targeted countries, pretending to be journalists and activists. Some of the Pages also posed as news organisations. Less than $450 in USD, INR and Bangladeshi taka were spent on this. About 29,000 accounts followed at least one Page, 1,100 joined at least one Group, and 74,000 followed at least one Instagram account. Facebook had earlier removed 687 pages and accounts linked to Congress for coordinated inauthentic behaviour. Between July and September 2019, Google had sent warnings to 101-500 Indian Google users that they had been targeted by government-backed attackers, the company had announced in November 2019.

Facebook said that it would now release reports on coordinated inauthentic behaviour every month. Coordinated inauthentic behaviour, for Facebook, includes foreign interference or domestic influence operations that are “coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal where fake accounts are central to the operation”. This includes two kinds of activities: domestic, non-state campaigns, and on behalf of a foreign or government actor.

Myanmar and Vietnam: Facebook removed 10 Pages and 13 Facebook accounts linked to Vietnamese and Myanmarese telecom providers Viettel and Mytel, after accusing the companies of discrediting competitors. The two companies spent about $1.15 million in USD and Vietnamese dong.

What Facebook removed and from where

  • Total number of Facebook accounts removed: 467
  • Total number of Instagram accounts removed: 1,245
  • Total number of Pages removed: 248
  • Total number of Groups removed: 49
  • Ad spending: About $1.2 million

Facebook brought down three other networks last month:

  1. Egypt: Two Egyptian marketing firms — New Waves and Flexel — targeted the Middle East and North Africa. They spent less than $48,500 in USD, UAE Dirham, Egyptian pound, and Canadian dollars.
  2. Russia: The Russian military intelligence targeted Ukraine and neighbouring countries.
  3. Iran: A small operation in Iran (6 Facebook accounts and 5 Instagram accounts) targeted the US.

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