'Their posts included local news and criticism of political opponents such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)', Facebook said.
New Delhi: Ahead of India's staggered elections, scheduled to begin on April 11, Facebook on Monday had taken down 687 pages and accounts linked to individuals associated with an IT Cell of the Congress.
The announcement marked a rare action from Facebook against a prominent political party in a country where it has more than 300 million users, the highest in the world.
Facebook said its investigation found that individuals used fake accounts and joined various groups to disseminate their content and increase engagement.
"Their posts included local news and criticism of political opponents such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)", Facebook said.
“While the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review found that it was connected to individuals associated with an INC (Indian National Congress) IT Cell,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy at Facebook, said in a statement.
Gleicher added that Facebook was removing accounts based on their behaviour, not the content they posted.
Two of the samples shared by Facebook were of posts that criticized Modi’s initiatives and called for supporting the Congress party and its president, Rahul Gandhi.
The social media giant also said it was removing 103 pages, groups and accounts, also for inauthentic behaviour, as part of a network which originated in Pakistan and was linked to employees of the Inter-Service Public Relations department of the Pakistani military.
In a statement on Twitter, the Congress said, “This is to clarify no official pages run by INC have been taken down. Additionally, all pages run by our verified volunteers are also unaffected. In the meantime, we are awaiting a response from Facebook to provide us a list of all pages/accounts that they have taken down.”
This is to clarify no official pages run by INC have been taken down. Additionally, all pages run by our verified volunteers are also unaffected.— Congress (@INCIndia) April 1, 2019
In the mean time, we are awaiting a response from Facebook to provide us a list of all pages/accounts that they have taken down.
On the other hand, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Facebook removing pages linked to the Congress is “a very historical development”.
“When inquiry was done, it was found that those individuals were linked to Congress IT cell. The Congress is desperate and therefore resorting to these types of dubious means to claim support but people are sure of what they have seen of Narendra Modi government,” he said.
Facebook has faced increasing pressure from authorities around the world, including the Indian government, to ensure its platform is not abused for political gains or to spread misinformation, especially ahead of elections.
Last week, Facebook removed a social media network in the Philippines and took the unusual step of linking it to a businessman who said he had managed the president’s online election campaign in 2016. It has taken similar actions recently against accounts in Russia and Iran.
Separately, Facebook said it had also removed another 227 pages and 94 accounts in India for violating its policies against spam and misrepresentation.
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Last Updated Apr 2, 2019, 10:17 AM IST