The social network’s move comes just weeks before the US congressional midterm elections.
The news: In a blog post, Facebook said it had shut down 559 pages and 251 accounts in the US for violating its anti-spam rules. Some of them were often pumping out identical pieces of content, and the spammers were also using lots of fake profiles to hide the fact that their actions were coordinated. Some of the outfits targeted by Facebook were ad farms trying to drum up clicks by pretending they were forums for legitimate political debate. The company told the New York Times that this was the highest number of domestic pages and accounts related to influence campaigns it had ever shuttered.
Spam, spam … : Facebook didn’t publicly name any of the publishers and accounts it had purged, but papers such as the Washington Post cited several examples. Those included “Reverb Press,” a left-leaning publisher with more than 700,000 followers, whose posts used terms such as “political scumbags” to refer to Republicans. Another was “Nation in Distress,” a page with more than 3 million followers that claimed to be the first online publication to have endorsed President Trump.
… Russia and spam: Also removed were profiles and pages run by a Russian firm called Social Data Hub that has been scraping data about Facebook users. The company is still investigating the service, whose chief executive has reportedly compared it to Cambridge Analytica, the firm at the heart of a huge controversy earlier this year concerning the misuse of user data.
Political policing: Drawing the line between legitimate debate and fake news can be really hard, and even leading-edge artificial-intelligence tools struggle to tell the difference. So there’s a risk that critics will accuse Facebook of politically motivated censorship. But that’s a price worth paying given its apparent determination to prevent a replay of 2016, when the site was flooded by fake news ahead of the US presidential election. There’s still no guarantee Facebook will be able to prevent that from happening again, but at least this time around its leaders seem to be taking the threat seriously.
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