Facebooks axes ‘fake news’ accounts ahead of election

Facebooks axes ‘fake news’ accounts ahead of election

Facebook says it has removed 168 accounts, 28 pages and eight Instagram accounts engaged in “inauthentic behaviour” targeting the Moldovan general election that is due to be held February 24.

The axed accounts carried domestic news and political stories, such as the requirement for Russian- or English-language education and potential reunification with Romania, the tech giant said.

The general election is already controversial, partly because it sees a new electoral system with half of the 101 MPs due to be elected on party lists and the other half in single-seat constituencies, which will favour the larger parties, critics claim.

Facebook’s security chief Nathaniel Gleicher said online activity originated in Moldova “used a combination of fake accounts and some authentic accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing”.

Because of this month’s parliamentary election “we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today”, Gleicher said.

About 54,000 Facebook accounts followed at least one of the pages and around 1,300 Instagram accounts followed at least one of the members that was removed, he said.

Moldova, between Romania and Ukraine, has been pursuing a pro-EU policy for several years, while President Igor Dodon was elected after a pro-Russian campaign.

Dodon has been suspended several times for refusing to sign laws passed by parliamentarians.

Ahead of this month’s election, Dodon has been told by the national electoral commission not to campaign for his Socialist party, saying the head of state must remain impartial.

Dodon has labelled the decision as “illegal and ungrounded” and launched a legal challenge.

That echoes accusations of the liberal party, who say that the president’s pro-Russian stance “is blackmailing citizens by saying that Moldovans will have good relations with Russia only if they vote for the Socialists”.

The Chisinau authorities said they welcomed efforts to combat “fake news” and that more than 200,000 Moldovans were employed by the state.

The government said it “does not check the activity of the private social network accounts of their employees”.

“Moreover, they have different political views and opinions, and the state is obliged to maintain the boundary between fighting the phenomenon of fake news and guaranteeing the freedom of expression for citizens,” the authorities added.

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our manual review found that some of this activity was linked to employees of the Moldovan government,” Facebook said.


The parliament Chisinau. Picture credit: IHA


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