Facebook shuts down an Israeli firm’s effort to influence politics in West Africa
Facebook today said it detected dozens of Facebook accounts that were engaging in what it calls “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” which is the company’s broad phrase for election interference and other forms of public manipulation via news and social media, directed primarily at West African countries. More notable, however, is the source: Israel.
This is the first time Facebook says it’s detected such activity from the country, and Facebook even names an Israeli commercial entity, Archimedes Group, that it says was behind the behavior. The goal ostensibly was to have some type of effect on local elections and the political atmosphere, although Facebook says it can’t divine the exact intentions of the group and there is no indication that it was in any way linked to the Israeli government. Although it was centered on West African countries like Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and Niger, Facebook also detected activity aimed at users in Angola, Tunisia, and parts of Southeast Asia and South America.
“The people behind this network used fake accounts to run Pages, disseminate their content and artificially increase engagement,” Nathaniel Gleicher, the head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, wrote in a blog post published this morning. “They also represented themselves as locals, including local news organizations, and published allegedly leaked information about politicians. The Page administrators and account owners frequently posted about political news, including topics like elections in various countries, candidate views and criticism of political opponents.”
Facebook says an Israeli company, Archimedes Group, was involved
As a result, Facebook says it’s shut down 65 Facebook accounts, 161 pages, 23 groups, and 12 events. It also detected and shut down four Instagram accounts related to the effort. It’s also banned Archimedes Group and all of its subsidiaries, and Facebook sent a cease and desist letter to the company.
On its website, Archimedes Group’s tagline is, “Winning elections worldwide.” It advertises itself as a kind of consultant for social media marketing related to elections, writing, “When approaching a client’s challenge, we address all possible facets relating to it. We then formulate a concise yet comprehensive solution that will use every tool and take every advantage available in order to change reality according to our client’s wishes.”
“We identified these accounts and Pages through our internal investigations into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior. We have shared information about our analysis with industry partners and policymakers,” Gleicher wrote. “We’re constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people. We’re taking down these Pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted.”
Beyond this one particular instance in Israel, most of Facebook’s efforts in combating election interference, foreign policy meddling, and state- and corporate-sponsored misinformation have been centered on Iran and Russia, although there has been an uptick in the past couple of years of this type of behavior coming from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and other countries.