Facebook removes fake accounts linked to conservative group

By David Klepper | Associated Press

Facebook has removed 276 accounts that used fake profiles to pose as right-leaning Americans and comment on news articles, often in favor of President Donald Trump, the company announced Thursday.

The platform also permanently banned an Arizona-based digital communications firm that it said was behind the fake accounts.

The move was prompted by reporting last month in The Washington Post that a pro-Trump group known as Turning Point Action was paying teenagers to post coordinated, supportive messages, a violation of Facebook’s rules.

Facebook and Twitter have been regularly removing fake accounts — both domestic and foreign — that try to insert themselves in the U.S. political discourse and influence the election. But social media companies face broader threats around misinformation and voter suppression that at times come from President Donald Trump himself.

The latest network Facebook removed became active before the 2018 midterm elections and went dormant until June when the accounts began posting on topics including the coronavirus pandemic, criticism of the Democratic Party and its nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as praise for Trump and other Republicans.

“So sick of democrats continuing to make republicans look bad! It makes me tired of politics and I just believe Republicans are much more humble when it comes to money because Democrats will do anything to screw over Americans,” read one post that Facebook cited as an example.

Individuals behind the accounts used stock photos to create fake profiles, many of which were removed by Facebook’s automated detection software. Facebook determined that the accounts were being coordinated by Rally Forge, an Arizona-based firm.

“Although the people behind this network attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation linked this activity to Rally Forge,” Facebook said.

While Facebook’s investigation cited Rally Forge’s

Facebook’s alleged indifference of Indian hate speech linked to policy chief’s political bias

Over the past several weeks, there has been an increasing clamour for Facebook to place its India public policy head, Ankhi Das, on leave as the company continues with an audit of its India operations.

The impetus for the audit was an article written by the Wall Street Journal in mid-August. In that piece, WSJ reported that Das had resisted against taking down inflammatory content that eventually sparked rioting in the capital city of Delhi as it was posted by members of the nationalist BJP party. 

The riots left over fifty dead, most of whom were Muslims. It also led to many of these Muslims’ homes being torched.

“The company’s top public-policy executive in the country, Ankhi Das, opposed applying the hate-speech rules to [T Raja] Singh and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence,” WSJ reported.

These inflammatory posts were reportedly only taken down months after the riots had already occured, and only when the paper approached the company for a statement. 

One of the BJP politicians, Raja Singh, reportedly said that Rohingya Muslim refugees should be “shot”, and had labelled Indian Muslims as traitors while also threatening to destroy their mosques. Singh, who has enshrined a reputation for these kinds of comments, has since denied these allegations and claimed his account was hacked.

The audit was initiated when a group of 54 retired civil servants wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the WSJ revelation. This call for an audit was then reiterated by a jointly-written letter to Facebook by global civil rights organisations such as the Southern Law Poverty Center, Muslim Advocates, and other organisations in countries such as the UK, US, and New Zealand.

“The audit must be removed entirely from the influence of the India