- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Facebook has purged its platforms of hundreds of accounts and pages for engaging in “domestic-focused coordinated inauthentic behavior” in Iraq and Ukraine, the company said Monday.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said the company took action against two separate campaigns targeting Iraqi and Ukrainian users on Facebook and Instagram.

“We didn’t find any links between the campaigns we removed, but they both created networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing,” Mr. Gleicher wrote in a blog post.

“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,” Mr. Gleicher wrote.

Concerning the Iraqi campaign, Mr. Gleicher said Facebook found and removed 76 Facebook accounts, 120 Facebook pages, one Facebook group and seven Instagram accounts engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

Using fake identifies, “Page admins and account owners typically posted about domestic political and societal issues such as religion, various public figures including Saddam Hussein, the state of the military under the Saddam rule, tensions with Iran, the US military action in Iraq, Iranian-backed militia operating in Iraq and Kurdish-Iraqi politics,” Mr. Gleicher explained.

Active since at least early 2016, the Iraqi operation was boosted in part by purchasing close to $1,600 in online advertisements, Mr. Gleicher added.

With respect to the Ukrainian campaign, Mr. Gleicher said Facebook purged 168 accounts, 149 pages and 79 groups for similar conduct. The administrators of that operation similarly used fake accounts to post about topics such as celebrities, show business, sports and news, in addition to “political and economic issues including Ukrainian elections, political candidates and criticism of various public figures,” Mr. Gleicher said.

Facebook has connected the Ukrainian campaign to Pragmatico, a Ukrainian PR firm, and said it purchased around $1.6 million worth of ads on Facebook and Instagram, he added. Pragmatico could not immediately be reached for comment.

Nearly a year left in the 2020 U.S. presidential race, Facebook’s latest disclosure came amid the company facing scrutiny over concerns with the possibility of its platforms being abused to influence voters.

Facebook previously acknowledged that millions of American users were subjected during the last White House race to content and ads shared on social media by fake personas operated by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll factory” accused of interfering in the election, and U.S. government officials have repeatedly warned recently that next year’s race risks coming under a similar attack.

“We are making progress rooting out this abuse, but as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing challenge. We’re committed to continually improving to stay ahead. That means building better technology, hiring more people and working more closely with law enforcement, security experts and other companies,” Mr. Gleicher said.

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