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Facebook deletes India’s Congress party & Pakistan military linked accounts

MNA Science & Technology Desk: Facebook has deleted 712 accounts and 390 pages in India and Pakistan for “inauthentic behavior”, it said on Monday, many linked to India’s opposition Congress party days before a national election, and others related to Pakistan’s military.

Facebook has come under increasing pressure around the world to ensure its social media platform is not abused for political purposes or to spread misinformation.

The action against accounts with alleged links to Congress, the party led by the Gandhi family that has dominated Indian politics for much of its post-independence era, marks a bold move by Facebook.

The platform has more than 300 million users in India, where it has been a key political campaigning tool in the election – the largest democratic exercise in the world – starting on April 11.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his rivals use official Facebook accounts to send political messages to millions of followers, thousands of unverified pages also share posts to support or criticise politicians.

Among the most significant things it has removed, Facebook said it had taken down 549 accounts and 138 pages linked to India’s Congress for “coordinated inauthentic behavior”.

In a Tweet, Congress said none of its official pages or 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.

Also removed were 15 accounts linked to an Indian IT company which, among other things, issued posts on Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and alleged misconduct of political opponents including Congress, Facebook said.

The Digital Forensic Research Lab at think tank Atlantic Council, which partnered with Facebook for the review, said the accounts linked to Congress pushed satirical posts, while pro-BJP pages “carried vitriolic posts against opposition leaders”.

“The fact that partisans on both sides resorted to such tactics is a troubling feature,” it said in a blog post.

In the face of increasing calls for tougher regulation of online content, Facebook has been taking similar measures elsewhere.

In Pakistan, it removed 57 accounts, 24 pages, seven groups, and 15 Instagram accounts, also for inauthentic behaviour, as part of a network that originated there and was linked to employees of a unit of the Pakistani military.

Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said the firm had removed accounts based on their behavior, not their content.

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.

Last week the firm 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 has also taken such action recently against accounts in Russia and Iran.

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