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Facebook clamps down on hundreds of political accounts leading up to midterm elections

Twitter’s effort to stomp out propaganda might be stagnant, but Facebook isn’t sitting idly by as the US midterm elections rapidly approach. Moving on from the many Russian-originated accounts banned for breaching Facebook terms and conditions, the social media site has now had to put hundreds of US-based political accounts on the chopping block for similar reasons.

Cambridge Analytica marks the highest profile incident of social media being used for political gain during the US presidential elections, prompting Facebook to bolster security to combat fake news and propaganda last November. 652 Russian and Iranian-based Pages and accounts were wiped from the service in August for their use of “sensational political content” and false information.

With the US midterm elections just around the corner, Facebook has turned its attention to US-based feeds, purging 559 Pages and 251 accounts from the network. The social media site emphasised that this wasn’t inherently because of the content produced by the pages, but rather consistent rule breaking via spam, use of bots and fake accounts to boost traffic.

“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,” explains Head of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher and Product Manager Oscar Rodriguez in a blog post.

“As we get better at uncovering this kind of abuse, the people behind it — whether economically or politically motivated — will change their tactics to evade detection. It’s why we continue to invest heavily, including in better technology, to prevent this kind of misuse.”

Facebook has stated that it won’t reveal the full list of affected pages, however The Guardian managed to confirm that Right Wing News and leftist page Reverb Press were among the culled. Reverb Press’ Editor-in-chief Edward Lynn protested the decision, claiming that practices that could be confused as propaganda were dropped as he took position some time ago.

“We are a legitimate news publisher. We are not fake news. We are not misinformation. We are not foreign. We are simply a small independent news publication trying to grow,” claims Lynn. Reverb Press plans to appeal the decision, however it isn’t certain that Facebook will respond.

KitGuru Says: I have to praise the strict zero-tolerance policy against misleading behaviour, however it does raise the question as to whether or not legitimate publishers could get caught in the crossfire. It’s great that the public can rest a little easier with less fake pages out there, but it’s always worth remaining vigilant.  

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