Latest Facebook shutdown involves hundreds of accounts misleading users in Ukraine, Iraq

The unrelated efforts in Eastern Europe and the Middle East are the latest examples of how the social media giant's reach is exploited.
Facebook Ukraine account taken down
Screenshot from a Ukraine-related account taken down by Facebook. (Facebook)

Facebook announced on Monday its taken hundreds of accounts, pages and groups offline upon determining they were engaged in separate information operations with roots in Iraq and Ukraine.

The company caught 244 accounts, 269 pages, 80 groups and seven Instagram pages that were used to mislead legitimate Facebook users about their behavior, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said in a blog post.

Facebook has for months publicized its account removals, in which the social media giant scrubs pages deemed to be violating Facebook policy, typically by lying about their true location or account owner. The company’s general term for the offenses is “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Gleicher repeatedly has stressed that Facebook takes these actions based on apparent user behavior, not the content posted.

In this case, Facebook removed 168 accounts, 149 pages and 79 groups for activity focused on Ukraine. People involved in this operation used fake identities to control Groups and Pages which tempted visitors to go to websites that appeared to be news outlets. The sites posted about celebrities, local and international news and issues related to Ukrainian politics, Facebook said.


In fact, the apparent news sites were controlled by Pragmatico, a Ukrainian public relations firm that spent about $1.6 million in U.S. dollars to advertise on Facebook and Instagram. No more than 4.2 million accounts followed one or more of those pages, Facebook said.

The Iraq-focused activity had a much shorter reach. Gleicher said his team took down 76 accounts, 120 Facebook pages, one Group, two Event pages and seven Instagram accounts that typically posted about “domestic political and societal issues such as religion, various public figures including Saddam Hussein, the state of the military under Saddam rule, tensions with Iran, the U.S. military action in Iraq, Iranian-backed militia operating in Iraq and Kurdish-Iraqi politics.”

Fewer than 1.6 million accounts followed one of more of those pages, while 339,000 accounts had joined at least one group. Events were scheduled between February 2016 and May 2016, however Facebook said it could not confirm whether people attended any of those gatherings , or whether they actually occurred at all.

Facebook did not attribute the Iraqi activity to any person or organization.

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