MENLO PARK (CBS SF / CNN) — Facebook on Tuesday said it had shut down more than 150 fake accounts it determined were run from China that including accounts posting about November’s US presidential election.
The accounts “posted content both in support of and against presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Donald Trump,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy wrote in a post on the company’s website.
Graphika, a social media analytics company commissioned by Facebook to study the network of accounts, wrote in its report Tuesday, “In 2019-2020, the operation began running accounts that posed as Americans and posted a small amount of content about the US presidential election. Different assets supported President Donald Trump and his rival Joe Biden; one short-lived group supported former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. The operation did not single out either candidate for preferential treatment. Many of the accounts in this phase of the operation were barely active.”
Facebook, based in Menlo Park, did not say if the accounts were tied to the Chinese government, only that the accounts were run from China’s Fujian province. The company did point out, however, that the accounts had been posting about “Beijing’s interests in the South China Sea.”
Graphika said accounts in the network had defended Beijing.
Gleicher stressed that most of the activity focused on South East Asia and only a very small amount of activity focused on the 2020 election.
However, there was a sense of urgency in Facebook’s announcement Tuesday.
The company normally discloses takedowns like this once a month — the next announcement is not due for another week or two.
Gleicher told reporters Tuesday given the nature of the company’s findings “we thought that it was important that people should be aware of what we are seeing.”
Ben Nimmo, head of investigations at Graphika told CNN, “The US-focused content was the least and last part of the operation. It ran one group each to support President Trump, Vice President Biden and Pete Buttigieg; all together, they had under 2,000 members. Some of their fake accounts did not engage with political content at all, and liked content from the US military instead. Most of the US-focused assets were taken down when they were a few months old, so they didn’t have time to build a substantial audience.”
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