Rabat – Facebook is taking preventive measures to preempt ill-intentioned exploitation of its users’ personal data.
The latest move in the technology giant’s response to global outcry over political manipulation came on Thursday of this week, as Facebook announced that it is shutting Israel-linked social media accounts and groups attempting to influence elections and public discourse in many countries, especially in Africa and Asia.
“Today we removed 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts, Facebook pages, groups, and events involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy, announced in a statement on Thursday.
Unlike similar announcements in the past months, when the technology giant rang alarm bells about groups spreading conspiratorial and deceptive content without providing specific details about the responsible entities, the latest statement revealed that the primary culprit behind the series of “inauthentic behavior” is Archimedes Group, a public relations firm based in Tel-Aviv, Israel.
Influencing public opinion
“Although the individuals behind this network attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found that some of this activity was linked to an Israeli commercial entity, Archimedes Group.
“It has repeatedly violated our misrepresentation and other policies, including by engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior. This organization and all its subsidiaries are now banned from Facebook, and it has been issued a cease and desist letter,” the statement noted.
With a robust online presence, including dozens of accounts, hundreds of groups, and millions of followers, the Israeli group principally engaged in the dissemination of content to “artificially increase engagement.” The artificial accounts’ activities mainly targeted Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia,” but they also boasted some visible “activity in Latin America and Southeast Asia,” according to Facebook.
Part of the fake accounts’ modus operandi is targeting countries by presenting themselves as locals, especially with local news outlets, to publish “allegedly leaked information about politicians.”
The group also publicized and hosted political events, and was involved in circulating online advertisements and slogans. The slogans mostly consisted of smear campaigns or supportive messages about front-bencher politicians in target countries.
Archimedes Group has not yet responded to Facebook’s announcement.
On its website, however, the Israeli firm presents itself as an agenda-setting/influencing firm comprised of “experts from a wide spectrum of fields,” including “consulting, lobbying, public diplomacy, international public relations, information, and social media.”
As far as the Israeli firm is concerned, its teams of experts have taken “significant roles in many political and public campaigns, among them presidential elections and other social media projects all over the world.”
Facebook’s warning comes as the group redoubles efforts to clamp down on security to protect users’ privacy and freedom.
Faced with global outrage in the age of fake news and scandals such as Cambridge Analytica, the tech giant is promising to upgrade its security policy to protect users’ freedom and privacy. Recent developments also suggest that sustained efforts to monitor “inauthentic behavior” are part of a charm campaign to improve the tech giant’s tarnished reputation.
“We’re constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people,” read Facebook’s statement.
Despite the company’s repeated warnings and promises to punish any “inauthentic behavior” which jeopardizes the privacy of users around the world, the trend has shown no signs of abating.
In recent months, Facebook issued similar warnings against a string of “inauthentic behaviors” and other digitized opinion-influencing platforms originating from Iran.
Between January and February of this year, Facebook announced that it had uncovered and taken down hundreds of fake Facebook groups and Instagram accounts which specialized in disseminating Iran-friendly narratives in the US, South Asia, and much of the Arab world, including Morocco.