Facebook’s prolonged struggle to nullify the spread of misleading information on its platform took a bold step on Thursday, when the company scrubbed over 800 pages for promoting what it calls “inauthentic behavior.”
The social network’s reputation for fake news blew up during the 2016 presidential election, when it was overrun with political spam deployed in large part by Russian trolls and foreign profiteers. But the company’s newest efforts indicate that the Russian boogeyman has given way to something far thornier: fake news of a homegrown variety.
Facebook’s purge affected hundreds of political accounts, many of which amassed millions of followers through publishing partisan and sometimes overtly false content. Liberal and conservative pages alike were wiped, because, as they company says, they used clickbait to drive traffic and sell ads.
As the company wrote:
Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior. Given the activity we’ve seen — and its timing ahead of the US midterm elections — we wanted to give some details about the types of behavior that led to this action. Many were using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names and posted massive amounts of content across a network of Groups and Pages to drive traffic to their websites. Many used the same techniques to make their content appear more popular on Facebook than it really was. Others were ad farms using Facebook to mislead people into thinking that they were forums for legitimate political debate.
Facebook’s justification for removing problematic accounts—using duplicate profiles, artificially boosting metrics, inflaming political tension to fatten ad revenue—is a tactful one. It omits any mention of political censorship, skirting an allegation lobbed at Facebook by conservative groups in particular. Per Facebook’s rationale, it’s not the content that’s the issue, but the manner in which the content was posted.
That can’t mask an essential point, though: The 2018 midterms are just beyond the horizon, and the accounts swept up in the purge were often nakedly political.
Per the Washington Post:
The domestic pages and accounts Facebook removed Thursday had a strong political bent. Nation In Distress, which claimed to be the early Trump supporter, recently shared a link to a story that had called Rep. Maxine Waters “demented.” Founded in 2012, it had amassed more than 3.2 million likes and over 3 million followers, as of Thursday morning, before it was taken down. The page linked in its “about” section to a website called “America’s Freedom Fighters,” which posted content and duplicated press releases that appeared to be written by others about violent crimes and gun rights — all alongside a sidebar of ads. An administrator for the site declined to comment.
Page administrators aren’t necessarily buying into Facebook’s logic. Chris Metcalf, publisher of the left-leaning Reasonable People Unite, compares the overnight disappearance of his account to an assault on free speech, rather than the company realizing its oft-reneged upon promise to stamp out fake news.
He told Wapo:
“I am a legitimate political activist. I don’t have a clickbait blog. I don’t have a fake news website. And I haven’t been doing anything that all the other pages in this space aren’t doing.”
Even with less Russian state actors swarming Facebook’s newsfeed—it’s presumably dealt with that already—the company’s outsize influence in US political discourse continues at its usual and problematic pace.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics