Facebook removed hundreds of pages, groups and accounts on its platforms for “co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour” linked to operations in Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Nigeria.
The operation in Indonesia involved a network of over 100 fake accounts on Facebook and Instagram posting content in English and Indonesian either in support or criticising the West Papua independence movement, active in the country’s restive easternmost region Papua.
“This was a network of pages designed to appear as local media and advocacy organisations,” said David Agranovich, Facebook Global Lead for Threat Disruption.
He told Reuters his team, monitoring Indonesia in light of increasing tensions in Papua, tracked the false accounts, which would disseminate content, buy ads and drive people to other sites, to Indonesian media firm InsightID.
Reuters was not able to reach the firm for comment.
There has been a spike in protests and unrest since late August in Papua, which suffered some of its worst bloodshed in decades in September, with 33 people killed and scores injured.
Researchers independently warned in September there was a rise of fake Twitter and Facebook accounts on Papua, with some posting pro-government content.
Agranovich said Facebook removed fake accounts related to two other unconnected networks in the Middle East and Africa.
One, according to Facebook, was in Egypt, but targeted the rest of the region posting content in support of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as criticism of Qatar, Iran, Turkey and Yemen’s separatist movement.
The executive said this operation used fake accounts “to masquerade as local media organisations in those countries and amplify content posted.”
According to Agranovich, Facebook found evidence some pages were purchased, with regular change of ownership, as well as deep links to Egyptian newspaper El Fagr, “known for sensationalistic content.”
As a result of the investigation, Facebook also removed El Fagr’s official media pages from its platforms, he said.
Reuters was not able to immediately contact El Fagr.
Facebook said the third network, tracked to three marketing firms in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Nigeria involved fake accounts which spread content on topics like UAE’s activity in Yemen and the Iran nuclear deal.
The social media giant recently cracked down on accounts after coming under fire in for self-admitted sluggishness in developing tools to combat extremist content and propaganda operations.
Earlier this year, it removed accounts from Iraq, Ukraine, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Thailand, Honduras and Israel.