September 3, 2020 – Facebook has taken down 453 Facebook accounts, 103 pages, 78 groups and 107 Instagram accounts from Pakistan during a crackdown on inauthentic behaviour. According to Facebook’s monthly Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour (CIB) Report, the network suspended in Pakistan was the biggest network in the world that has been taken down by Facebook in August 2020.
The report highlights that since it began publishing the report, Facebook has taken down over 100 networks engaged in coordinated inauthentic behaviour on the platform from around the world. Facebook takes these decisions based on the analysis of coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal where fake accounts are central to the operation.
It further defines the two tiers of CIB activities that the platform works to stop:
- coordinated inauthentic behaviour in the context of domestic, non-government campaigns and,
- coordinated inauthentic behaviour on behalf of a foreign or government actor.
The recent report highlights that it has taken action against three networks from the US, Russia and Pakistan. Facebook took down a small network of 13 accounts and 2 pages based in Russia, and 55 Facebook accounts, 42 pages and 36 Instagram accounts linked to a US-based strategic communication firm, the significant number of accounts that were taken down based on their inauthentic behaviour originated from Pakistan with a total of 453 Facebook accounts, 103 pages, 78 groups and 107 Instagram accounts indicating the magnitude of the situation of mis and disinformation in the country.
Internet Observatory, a cyber policy centre at Stanford University, investigated into the behaviour of these accounts before the network was taken down by Facebook. Their research found that most of the accounts in this network were engaged in mass reporting to silence critics of Islam and Pakistan.
The report mentions, “The network encouraged users to mass-report accounts that were critical of Islam and the Pakistani government, and in some cases accounts that were part of the Ahmadi religious community.”
Strangely, the report also indicated that “The network also had messaging praising the Pakistani military, along with some Indian military fan Pages and Groups of unclear purpose.”
The report found that accounts and pages targeted by the network were based in Pakistan and India, with most content being published by the accounts engaged in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and English. The Internet Observatory report also found that the recent crackdown on the network from Pakistan had 70,000 followers of at least one of the pages, and 1.1 million users belonged to at least one group in the network.
The report highlights that the recently suspended network used a Google Chrome extension that allowed them to open multiple tabs at once to mass report content critical of the government and Islam. The Internet Observatory report further mentions that, “Many Pages and Groups posted Pakistani nationalist content, praising the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency) and ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.”
Hija is a Programs Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. She combines her experience in digital rights in Pakistan to lead digital rights and internet governance advocacy of MMfD. She tweets at @hijakamran