Facebook revealed late last month that it removed two unconnected networks of accounts, pages and groups for engaging in foreign and government interference—one originating in the country of Georgia, and the second in Vietnam and the U.S.
For the first network, which originated in the country of Georgia, 39 accounts, 344 pages, 13 groups and 22 Instagram accounts were removed.
Gleicher said the people behind the activity used fake accounts—some of which had previously been disabled by the social network’s automated systems—to increase engagement with content and manage pages, which posed as news organizations and impersonated political parties, public figures, activist groups and media entities.
Content typically covered domestic news and political issues including elections, government policies, public officials, criticism of the opposition and local activist organizations, and Gleicher said Facebook’s investigation linked the activity to Georgia-based advertising agency Panda and the Georgian Dream-led government.
Roughly 442,300 Facebook accounts followed one or more of the removed pages, while some 52,000 joined at least one of the groups and around 2,100 people on Instagram followed one or more of the accounts removed from that platform.
Gleicher said under $316,000 was spent on ads on Facebook and Instagram, paid for in U.S. dollars, and he shared examples of content from the removed pages:
The second group was made up of 610 accounts, 89 pages, 156 groups and 72 Instagram accounts, originating in Vietnam and the U.S. and focused primarily on the U.S., with some content geared toward Vietnam and Spanish- and Chinese-speaking people worldwide.
Gleicher wrote, “This activity primarily focused on The BL, a U.S.-based media company, and its pages, which were operated by individuals in the U.S. and Vietnam. The people behind this activity made widespread use of fake accounts—many of which had been automatically removed by our systems—to manage pages and groups, automate posting at very high frequencies and direct traffic to off-platform sites. Some of these accounts used profile photos generated by artificial intelligence and masqueraded as Americans to join groups and post the BL content.”
He added that a combination of fake accounts and authentic accounts belonging to individuals in the U.S. was used to manage pages and groups and avoid detection, with content usually consisting of memes and other fare about U.S. political news and issues including impeachment, conservative ideology, political candidates, elections, trade, family values and freedom of religion.
Gleicher said Facebook’s investigation linked the activity to U.S.-based media organization Epoch Media Group and individuals in Vietnam working on its behalf, adding, “The BL-focused network repeatedly violated a number of our policies, including our policies against coordinated inauthentic behavior, spam and misrepresentation, to name just a few. The BL is now banned from Facebook. We are continuing to investigate all linked networks, and we will take action as appropriate if we determine that they are engaged in deceptive behavior.”
Some 55 million accounts followed at least one of the removed pages, with the vast majority of those accounts from outside of the U.S. About 381,500 joined at least one of the groups, and approximately 92,000 followed one or more of the Instagram accounts.
Gleicher said nearly $9.5 million was spent on ads on Facebook and Instagram, paid for primarily in U.S. dollars, in addition to Australian dollars, Canadian dollars, Indonesian rupiah, Korean won, new Taiwan dollars and Vietnamese dong.
He also shared examples of content from the removed pages: