Facebook removes fake accounts linked to Philippine military, police

Facebook has removed dozens of accounts for breaching its foreign or government interference policies, including several with links to the Philippine military and police. The social media operator uncovered “the full scope” of such activities after investigating information brought to its attention by the civil society and Rappler, an independent news organisation in the Philippines. 

Operating under two main networks, originating from China and the Philippines, individuals behind the activities had coordinated with each other and used fake accounts as an integral part of their operations to mislead people about who they were and what they were doing. 

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For the network that originated from China, Facebook removed 155 accounts, 11 Pages, nine Groups, and six Instagram accounts for coordinated inauthentic behaviour on behalf of a foreign or government entity, which it defined as foreign or government interference. Such activities had originated in China and focused primarily on the Philippines and Southeast Asia, though, some attention also was placed on the US. 

In addition, some 133,000 accounts had followed at least one of these Pages, while 61,000 people joined at least one of these Groups. Another 150 accounts had followed at least one of these Instagram accounts. Some $60 also were spent on ads, paid for in Chinese yuan. 

“We identified several clusters of connected activity that relied on fake accounts to pose as locals in countries they targeted, post in Groups, amplify their own content, manage Pages, Like, and comment on other people’s posts particularly about naval activity in the South China Sea, including US Navy ships,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, in a post Tuesday. “This campaign took operational security steps to conceal their identity and location including through the use of VPNs (virtual private networks).”

Some of the Pages previously had been removed for violating the site’s inauthentic behaviour and spam policies, Gleicher noted.

They had posted in Chinese, Filipino, and English about global news and current events including Beijing’s interests in the South China Sea and Hong Kong. They also focused on content supportive of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Sarah Duterte’s potential run in the country’s presidential elections in 2022 as well as criticism of Rappler, an independent news organisation in the Philippines, which had alerted Facebook about some of the content. 

With regards to the US, the network placed the least focus and had little or no following, posting content both in support of and against presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Donald Trump.

Facebook’s investigations found links to individuals in China’s Fujian province. 

According to Gleicher, amongst those removed, the Philippine network was behind 57 Facebook accounts, 31 Pages, and 20 Instagram accounts and focused its efforts on domestic audiences. Notably, this network was found to have links to both the military and police in the Philippines.

Here, 276,000 accounts followed at least one of these Pages, while 5,500 people had followed at least one of the Instagram accounts. Some $1,100 was spent on ads on Facebook, paid for in Philippine peso. 

The Philippine network comprised several clusters of connected activity that relied on fake accounts to evade enforcement, post content, comment, and manage Pages, he said, adding that this operation appeared to have accelerated between 2019 and 2020. The network posted in Filipino and English about local news and events, including domestic politics, military activities against terrorism, pending anti-terrorism bill, criticism of communism, as well as the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military wing the New People’s Army.

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