NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Facebook has removed 712 accounts and 390 pages in India and Pakistan because of “inauthentic behaviour” and spamming, it said on Monday, much of it linked to India’s main opposition Congress party days before elections and Pakistan’s military.
Facebook has faced increasing pressure from authorities around the world to ensure its platform is not abused for political gains or to spread misinformation, especially ahead of elections.
Among the most significant removals, Facebook said it took down 549 accounts and 138 pages linked to India’s Congress for “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. Facebook said it also banned some accounts linked to an Indian company “associated with” a mobile app promoted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In Pakistan, Facebook removed 57 accounts, 24 pages, seven groups and 15 Instagram accounts, also for inauthentic behaviour, as part of a network which originated in Pakistan and was linked to employees of a unit of the Pakistani military.
“We didn’t find any links between the campaigns we’ve removed today, but they used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others,” Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, said in a statement.
Gleicher added that Facebook removed accounts based on their behaviour, not the content, and the action followed an internal investigation in the region ahead of the upcoming elections in India.
India’s staggered election is scheduled to begin on April 11 and end on May 19.
Tension flared last month between nuclear-armed foes India and Pakistan after a suicide bomb attack claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in disputed Kashmir.
The action against accounts linked to India’s Congress marks a rare move by Facebook against a prominent political party in a country where it has more than 300 million users, the highest in the world.
“Our review found that it was connected to individuals associated with an INC (Indian National Congress) IT Cell,” Gleicher said.
In a tweet, the Congress party said none of its official pages, and those run by its verified volunteers, had been taken down. The party is awaiting a response from Facebook to provide a list of all pages and accounts which were removed, it said.
CRITICISM OF POLITICIANS
Facebook’s investigation found that individuals used fake accounts and issued posts which included local news and criticism of political opponents such as the BJP.
Two of the samples shared by Facebook were of posts that criticised Modi’s initiatives and called for supporting the Congress party and its president, Rahul Gandhi.
Separately, Facebook said it had removed 12 accounts and one page, plus one group and one Instagram account, which linked to individuals related to an Indian IT firm named Silver Touch. Among other things, they shared content on the BJP and the alleged misconduct of its political rivals, Facebook said.
Asked what was Silver Touch’s link with politics, Gleicher said Facebook only knew it was an Indian IT firm that, among other things, worked for Modi’s BJP. The only link Facebook saw was that the company was associated with a mobile application promoted by Modi, Gleicher said, without elaborating.
Silver Touch did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Calls to BJP’s IT head, Amit Malviya, went unanswered.
Facebook said it had also removed another 227 pages and 94 accounts in India for violating its policies on spam and misrepresentation.
In Pakistan, Facebook said it removed pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram that spread information about Pakistani politics, the Indian government and the Pakistani military.
Those accounts were being run by employees of the Pakistani military’s public relations arm, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Facebook said.
No comment was immediately available from ISPR.
These Pakistani accounts, pages, groups and Instagram accounts removed from Facebook had more than 2.8 million followers.
Facebook has been taking such measures across the globe.
Last week, it removed a social media network in the Philippines and took the unusual step of linking it to a businessman who said he had managed the president’s online election campaign in 2016.
It took similar actions recently against accounts in Russia and Iran.