News Brief

New Revelations of Facebook Being Exploited To Spread Division

Facebook says it has uncovered more evidence of its platform being exploited to sow distrust and division, but this time with campaigns aimed at users in Latin America, Britain and the Middle East, and originating from Iran as well as Russia.

In a statement, the social media giant said it had removed 652 fake accounts, pages and groups involved in these disinformation efforts, after receiving a tip from a cybersecurity firm. At least 155,000 accounts followed one or more of these pages, the company said.

It comes amid new revelations of how Facebook may have played a role in fueling violence towards refugees in Germany, according to a report in the New York Times.

Facebook is keen to show it’s taking a tougher stance towards efforts to abuse its platform, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and criticism of its failure to stall Russian influence operations during the 2016 U.S. election.

Last month, it said it had detected and blocked a sophisticated influence operation aimed at disrupting the U.S. midterm elections in November.

In its latest move, the California-based company said it had also shuttered 76 accounts on Instagram, which it also owns. It said it had traced one of the influence campaigns to the Iranian-government funded network Press TV.

“We believe these pages, groups and accounts were part of two sets of campaigns,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said in a conference call about its latest investigation. “One from Iran, with ties to state-owned media. The other came from a set of people the U.S. government and others have linked to Russia.”

Facebook also released what it said were examples of content it had taken down, including a movie poster-style image of Donald Trump astride the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and a set of fake “Brexit” stamps deriding Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

But the California-based company is facing more allegations that its vast global reach is being exploited to spread social discord.

An exhaustive study of all reported attacks on refugees in Germany by researchers from Britain’s Warwick University has found a close correlation with Facebook use.

They were even able to test their findings with periods when people did not have access to the site, because of internet outages. And whenever the internet was out in areas with high Facebook use, attacks on refugees dropped significantly.