On Thursday, Facebook shut down a series of fake news pages spreading propaganda about the Bangladeshi opposition days before the national elections.
Nine Facebook pages designed to mimic legitimate news outlets, as well as six fake personal accounts spreading anti-opposition propaganda were created by Bangladeshis with government ties, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said.
The sites would be shut down “for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour” by Thursday evening at the latest, he said.
A threat intelligence company that Facebook worked with determined that the people who created and managed the sites are “associated with the government,” he said, declining to provide further details.
Twitter later said it had suspended 15 accounts in Bangladesh, most with fewer than 50 followers, “for engaging in coordinated platform manipulation.” “Based on our initial analysis, it appears that some of these accounts may have ties to state-sponsored actors,” it said on Twitter. It gave few other details and it was not immediately clear when the suspensions occurred.
On Facebook, the news sites were all designed to look like authentic news pages, including one operated by the BBC’s Bangla-language service and another by the popular Bangladeshi online newspaper bdnews24.com.
The sites would report false information about such things as turmoil in the camp of imprisoned opposition leader Khaled Zia.
“These are fake but look like independent news outlets,” said Gleicher, noting all were “pro-government and anti-opposition.” Facebook began its investigation of the pages in November, and the Thursday shutdowns were “prompted by both external and internal evidence, including a tip from Graphika, a threat intelligence company that we work with,” he said.
While the nine pages did not immediately seem to have particularly large reach by Facebook standards Gleicher said one had 11,900 followers it comes at a key time for Bangladesh, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attempting to return to office for a third consecutive time in Dec 30 elections.
“Frankly, this is a small network involving Bangladesh but this is very important for us” Gleicher said, adding that Facebook “does not want people or organisations creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they are doing.” Facebook has come under intense criticism for its role in spreading false and divisive messages, from phony political accounts weighing in on the 2016 US presidential election to racist statements in Myanmar.