Facebook pulls down fake accounts tied to China that posted about US politics


Facebook has rules against creating accounts and pages that mislead others about their identity and purpose. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook said Tuesday that it had pulled down 181 fake accounts, groups and pages that originated in China and posted about current events, including the US presidential election.

The social network said these accounts violated its rules because the users sought to conceal their identity and purpose in order to post content on behalf of a foreign or government entity. Facebook linked the accounts to individuals in China’s Fujian Province though the users attempted to conceal their identity through the use of virtual private networks. Facebook hasn’t found any evidence that these accounts were tied to the Chinese government. 

The move comes as tensions between the US and China increase over the novel coronavirus, which was first discovered in Wuhan, China. The Trump administration has threatened to ban apps owned by Chinese companies in the US, including TikTok and WeChat. Facebook has also been under more pressure to combat political misinformation after Russian trolls used the social network to sow discord during the 2016 US presidential election. 

Facebook said it removed 155 Facebook accounts, 11 pages and nine groups, as well as six accounts on Facebook-owned Instagram that were tied to China. The network of accounts focused primarily on the Philippines and South East Asia, but users also posted content about the US. The network focused the least on the US, Facebook said, and posted content both in support of and against US presidential candidate Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, as well as former candidate Pete Buttigieg. These accounts “gained almost no following,” Facebook said. Less than 3,000 of the accounts’ followers were in the US. 

In one post about Trump, a user claimed a former Trump supporter told him or her that the change in allegiance was because the president was lying about having a vaccine ready for the public. Another post by a different user praised Trump and urged others to vote for the president in the upcoming election. 

Facebook removed fake accounts tied to China in August 2019, but the social network said those accounts had ties to the Chinese government. This is the first time the social network has taken down a network posting about US politics that originated in China, according to Nathaniel Gleicher, who oversees Facebook’s security policy.

Facebook said the network of fake accounts focused mostly on Southeast Asia. The accounts posted about global news and current events in Chinese, Filipino and English. Some of the content was about Beijing’s interests in the South China Sea and Hong Kong. They also shared posts in support of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Sarah Duterte’s potential presidential run in the 2022 elections. The users criticized the Philippines news outlet Rappler and shared other political content. 

“The activity involved with the US appears more recent. It appears much less developed, quite nascent and pretty ineffective, to be honest,” Gleicher said.

Roughly 133,000 accounts followed at least one of the inauthentic Facebook pages. Around 61,000 people joined one or more of these groups, and about 150 accounts followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.

Facebook also pulled down 57 Facebook accounts, 31 pages and 20 Instagram accounts tied to the Philippines. Facebook linked the accounts to the Philippine military and Philippine police. The accounts posted in Filipino and English about local news and events, such as criticism of communism and the Communist Party of the Philippines.

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