Facebook axes fake accounts pretending to be legitimate media organizations

Looking at the who behind a newsfeed post is often a good start to weeding out fake news — but Facebook removed more than 500 fake pages pretending to be local media agencies and local users. The accounts were removed as part of a 2,632 account purge, axing accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior (Facebook’s term for accounts pretending to be someone they are not) in Iran, Russia, Macedonia, and Kosovo. A “small number” of those accounts also pretended to be political communities in the United States.

The first set of 513 Pages, Groups and accounts had ties to Iran; Facebook said this group of accounts was removed from the platform for either pretending to be made-up media entities, pretending to be local residents, or for impersonating actual media outlets and political organizations. Facebook says the accounts posted on topics such as “sanctions against Iran; tensions between India and Pakistan; conflicts in Syria and Yemen; terrorism; tensions between Israel and Palestine; Islamic religious issues; Indian politics; and the recent crisis in Venezuela.”

The group of accounts was made up of 158 Pages, 263 Facebook accounts, 35 Groups, and 57 Instagram accounts. In total, the accounts had about 1.4 million followers, with 108,000 users in the groups and 38,000 followers on Instagram, while spending about $15,000 on advertising beginning in 2013.

The removal of the accounts serves as a reminder for users to check the source of the news — beyond just what the account name says. For example, one Instagram account used the BBC News logo as a profile picture, but the account was named @bbcgraphy and didn’t have the blue verification checkmark of the real @bbcnews.

In addition to the 513 accounts with ties to Iran, the social media platform also removed 1,907 Pages, Groups and accounts for spam. Facebook says the accounts engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior and had ties to Russia. This group included 86 Pages, 64 Facebook accounts, and 1,757 Groups with around 50,000 followers and 1.7 million Group members.

In the final grouping of removed accounts, Facebook axed 212 Facebook Pages, Groups and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior originating in Macedonia and Kosovo. The company says that these accounts posted on general topics like beauty tips and celebrities, with “a small number” pretending to represent political groups in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia.

The deleted accounts with Macedonia and Kosovo ties included 40 Pages and 172 Facebook accounts with about 685,000 followers and $5,800 spent in advertising since 2013. Crediting open-source reporting and press organizations in Australia for helping to uncover the accounts, Facebook says it has shared relevant information with lawmakers.

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