In a major crackdown on a disinformation network spanning multiple accounts, Facebook took down two separate networks for violating their policy against coordinated inauthentic behaviour (CIB). One of these networks originated in China and he other in the Philippines.
“In each case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts as a central part of their operations to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing, and that was the basis for our action. When we investigate and remove these operations, we focus on behavior rather than content, no matter who’s behind them, what they post, or whether they’re foreign or domestic,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Facebook’s Security Policy said in a blog post.
Facebook removed 155 accounts, 11 Pages, 9 Groups and 6 Instagram accounts for violating their policy against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity.
“This activity originated in China and focused primarily on the Philippines and Southeast Asia more broadly, and also on the United States. We identified several clusters of connected activity that relied on fake accounts to pose as locals in countries they targeted, post in Groups, amplify their own content, manage Pages, like and comment on other people’s posts particularly about naval activity in the South China Sea, including US Navy ships,” Gleicher outlined in his blog post.
This disinformation campaign “took operational security steps to conceal their identity and location including through the use of VPNs. Some of this network’s Pages were previously removed for violating our inauthentic behavior and spam policies”.
As per Facebook, in Southeast Asia where this network focused most of its activity, they posted in Chinese, Filipino and English about global news and current events “including Beijing’s interests in the South China Sea; Hong Kong; content supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte and Sarah Duterte’s potential run in the 2022 Presidential election; criticism of Rappler, an independent news organization in the Philippines; issues relevant to the overseas Filipino workers; and praise and some criticism of China”.
“In the US, where this network focused the least and gained almost no following, they posted content both in support of and against presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Donald Trump,” Gleicher explained.
WEB OF DISINFORMATION
- Presence on Facebook and Instagram: 155 Facebook accounts, 11 Pages, 9 Groups and 6 Instagram accounts
- Followers: About 133,000 accounts followed one or more of these Pages, around 61,000 people joined one or more of these Groups, and about 150 accounts followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.
- Advertising: About $60 in spending for ads on Facebook paid for in Chinese yuan.
Graphika, a social media analysis firm, code named the crackdown Op Naval Gazing.
Here’s the @Graphika_NYC report.
Overall, 155 accounts on FB, 11 pages, 9 groups, 6 Instagram accounts.
2017: mostly Taiwan
2018-19: + Philippines and South China Sea
2020: + US-centric content.
The biggest audience was in the Philippines.https://t.co/LzSeXixImr
— Ben Nimmo (@benimmo) September 22, 2020
“The assets posted about a range of issues in Chinese, English, Filipino, and Indonesian, including a small volume of content on the U.S. 2020 election, but they showed a particular interest in maritime security, especially in the South China Sea. For this reason, we have dubbed this activity Operation Naval Gazing,” Graphika explained in its report.
“The operation used a number of techniques to disguise its fake accounts. Some stole their profile pictures from authentic individuals. Others used AI-generated profile pictures, a technique that is becoming increasingly prevalent in information operations around the world. The operation typically set up its accounts in small batches spread out over a few days and linked by stylistic features, such as the choice of profile picture or the location that they claimed. None of the accounts made large numbers of friends on Facebook,” Graphika stated.
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