(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 559 pages and 251 accounts that were coordinating the spread of misinformation and spam in the U.S. — and most originated from within the country.
The social network, which has been under fire for facilitating foreign interference in U.S. politics, has found that domestic actors have also been creating fake pages and accounts to attract people with shocking political news, the way they have in the past with celebrity news or health news. Their motivation is mostly financial, the company said.
“The people behind the activity also post the same clickbait posts in dozens of Facebook Groups, often hundreds of times in a short period, to drum up traffic for their websites,” the company said Thursday in a blog post. “And they often use their fake accounts to generate fake likes and shares. This artificially inflates engagement for their inauthentic pages and the posts they share, misleading people about their popularity and improving their ranking in news feed.”
In the past, Facebook has pulled hundreds of fake pages spreading political misinformation from countries including Russia and Iran. Those types of posts had the aim of sowing discord in the U.S., setting up protest events and moments of outrage. The domestic actors, in contrast, are trying to generate revenue by getting more people to click on their accounts, pages or advertisements, according to Facebook. One thing in common, though, is the use of fake identities and accounts to artificially increase the popularity of certain news, gaming the company’s algorithm in the process.
Facebook’s rules don’t stop people from saying things that are false and incendiary. But the company tries to take down accounts and pages that are not from real people.
Some pages Facebook removed had large followings of real and fake accounts. Nation in Distress, a conservative meme page, was followed by more than 3 million people, according to the Internet Archive, which stores historical versions of websites and other online content. Reverb Press, which most recently was posting information opposed to then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, was liked by more than 800,000 people and had been verified by Facebook.