Facebook removes China-based, PH military and police-linked networks for ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior’

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 23 2020 03:05 AM | Updated as of Sep 23 2020 09:57 AM

Illustration taken on February 17, 2019, the US social media Facebook logo displayed on a tablet in Paris. Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/File

MANILA (UPDATE) - Facebook on Wednesday said several social-media accounts belonging to two networks -- one based in China, the other purportedly with "links" to individuals associated with the Philippine military and police -- were found to have violated its policies. 

The social-networking company said it has thus removed pages, accounts, groups and Instagram profiles of the two unnamed networks, which were allegedly targeting the Philippines for "coordinated inauthentic behavior" or manipulation campaigns on the platform.

Fifty-seven Facebook accounts, 31 pages and 20 Instagram accounts, which constituted one network operating in the Philippines, were taken down, Facebook's Head of Security Policy Nathaniel Gleicher told reporters in a virtual briefing that he conducted from California.

"We are attributing this network to the Philippine military and Philippine police. In particular, we found links behind this network that connected to both these organizations and individuals associated with these organizations," Gleicher said.

"Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to Philippine military and Philippine police," Facebook said in a statement

This network had about 276,000 followers in their pages, Gleicher said. He did not name the accounts and pages.

The network, the Facebook official added, was focused on local news events, domestic politics, military activities against terrorism, the anti-terrorism bill, criticism of communism, youth activists and the opposition, criticism of the Communist party of the Philippines and its military wing the New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

Facebook said the alleged violations included using fake accounts to evade enforcement and representing themselves as a different person to "amplify" their contents, among others.

Facebook said it has yet to inform the government about the removal of the accounts.

Asked if Facebook would recommend actions the government could take on these accounts, Gleicher said: "If they want to engage further we will talk to them, we’re going to be very careful. We wouldn’t want to provide them [actors/threat] a map on how to evade our enforcement."

The network was discovered by Facebook following a tip from civic organizations and Rappler, its affiliate in fact-checking, on a portion of the operations.

Samples of removed pages from the network operating in the Philippines. Screengrab: Facebook

Samples of removed pages from the network operating in the Philippines. Screengrab: Facebook

Samples of removed pages from the network operating in the Philippines. Screengrab: Facebook

Samples of removed pages from the network operating in the Philippines. Screengrab: Facebook

In March 2019, Facebook also removed pages and accounts associated with the public relations man Nic Gabunada for “inauthentic coordinated behavior," who also handled the social media campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016. 

Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher during a press briefing in Taguig. March 29,2019. Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News/File


The second network taken down "emanated" from the Fujian province in China and targeted people in Southeast Asia including the Philippines, Facebook said.

At least 155 accounts, 11 pages, 9 groups and 6 Instagram accounts linked to the China-based network were taken down, Gleicher said. Some 130,000 accounts followed one of the pages and 161,000 people joined one of the groups, he added.

Gleicher said this network also relied on fake accounts to pose as locals, to post into groups, to amplify their own content and to manage and comment on posts "particularly on the naval activity on the South China Sea including the activity of US navy."

Sample pages of removed accounts that originated from China has also been released by Facebook: 

Screengrab: Facebook
Screengrab: Facebook

Interests in South China Sea, Hong Kong, "contents supportive of President Duterte and Sara Duterte’s potential run in the 2022 presidential election," issues relevant to overseas Filipino workers and praise and some criticism of China were some of the focus of the China-based network, Gleicher added.

Facebook has so far dislodged at least 100 networks globally in a bid to keep the platform safe from what it described as "inauthentic and manipulative" behaviors, fake accounts and other threats to its userbase.

It has also banned or taken down several Philippine-based groups for spamming and misrepresentation amid criticisms the social-networking platform has not done enough to stop online hate.