Facebook announced on Thursday that it has removed 559 pages and 251 accounts for routinely violating its rules against spam. These pages and accounts used fake accounts to rack up likes and shares, and pushed users towards deceiving website links, most of which pushed political content.
Today’s announcement is at least the third high-profile purge of accounts Facebook has announced in recent months. Over the summer, Facebook announced two purges of Pages, accounts, and events participating in “inauthentic coordinated activity.” Some of the Pages and accounts used similar methods as those previously created by the Russian-linked troll farm Internet Research Agency. Others Facebook could say originated in Iran and Russia. At least 700 Pages and accounts in total were shut down over the summer.
However, the accounts removed today weren’t suspected to have been created by foreign actors.
Facebook didn’t say in its blog post which Pages and accounts were removed, but the New York Times reported that Right Wing News, which had more than 3.1 million followers, and left-leaning account the Resistance, which had 240,000 followers, were some of the Pages axed. Facebook told the Times that today’s purge “would be the most domestic Pages and accounts it had ever removed related to influence campaigns.”
In a blog post explaining why the Pages and accounts were removed, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher and product manager Oscar Rodriguez emphasized that they weren’t taken down for the type of content they posted or the opinions they expressed, but because they were using deceptive techniques to encourage people to click on their links.
“Many were using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names and posted massive amounts of content across a network of Groups and Pages to drive traffic to their websites,” the pair wrote. “Many used the same techniques to make their content appear more popular on Facebook than it really was. Others were ad farms using Facebook to mislead people into thinking that they were forums for legitimate political debate.” Facebook acknowledged that the proximity to the U.S. midterms — less than four weeks away — played a role in its decision to publicly explain why it took these Pages and accounts down.
As Facebook has taken more heat over the past few years for failing to stop both fake and real accounts that were spreading misinformation, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said that the company won’t take down Pages simply for posting something fake — a line he continued to repeat while facing calls to suspend notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
In recent months, the company has become more empowered, however, to use its policies against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior to go after these accounts. This is in addition to a long list of initiatives — ranging from creation of a fact-checking program to only allowing verified U.S. users to purchase political ads — Facebook has undertaken in the past two years in an attempt to ensure fewer bad actors can spread misinformation on Facebook, especially around election time.
VentureBeat has reached out to Facebook for more information about the Pages and accounts that were removed, and will update this story if we hear back.