Facebook thwarts Israeli firm’s efforts to interfere in foreign politics

Facebook has removed 265 deceptive Facebook and Instagram accounts, pages and other content promoted in an attempt by an Israeli company to influence foreign politics, it announced on Thursday.

Deceptive political content promoted by Archimedes Group, including the purchase of advertisements valued at $812,000, focused on influencing domestic politics in a range of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as some activity in Latin America and South-East Asia.

“People behind the network used groups of fake accounts to run pages, disseminate content and to artificially increase engagement,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook Head of Cybersecurity Policy, told reporters.

“They also represented themselves as locals, including making themselves look like local news organizations and published supposedly leaked information about local politicians. Pages would frequently post about political news, including topics like elections, candidate views and criticisms of candidates’ opponents.”

While those responsible attempted to conceal their identities, Facebook said its internal investigation team confirmed that the deceptive material was linked to a company called the Archimedes Group, which has repeatedly violated the platform’s misrepresentation policies, including by engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior.

In total, Gleicher said Facebook had removed 65 Facebook accounts, 161 pages, 23 groups and 12 events. Four Instagram accounts were also removed from the Facebook-owned platform.

Approximately 2.8 million Facebook accounts followed one or more of the deceptive pages and approximately 5,500 joined the Facebook groups.

An example of a Facebook post removed by the company: Faithful to only himself, Martin Fayulu criticizes and rejects the results of the presidential election, which has unfolded transparently and in an exemplary calmness. It is time for him to admit his defeat to president Tshisekedi who has been el

Some 2,900 people declared their interest in attending at least one of the events promoted by the company, with the most recent scheduled for this month. Facebook could not confirm whether any of the events actually occurred.

Facebook advertisements dating back to December 2012 and as recently as April 2019 were paid for in a combination of Israeli shekels, Brazilian real and US dollars.

“In addition to removing these assets from the platform, our team has assessed that this group is primarily organized to conduct this kind of deceptive behavior. We are removing them from the platform and blocking them from coming back,” said Gleicher.

“These are actors facilitating deception and appear to be commercially engaged. That type of business doesn’t have a place on our platform.”

According to the website of Archimedes Group, the company is based in Tel Aviv and employs “state-of-the-art technologies and innovative methods” to take significant roles in “many political and public campaigns,” including presidential elections and other social media projects worldwide.

While it can be challenging to determine the motive behind an operation like this, Gleicher said, the Archimedes Group “appeared to work on behalf of public figures and political figures, working to push positive narratives about them and to push criticism of their political opponents.”

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