FACEBOOK HAS HAD a fairly patchy record at dealing with extremist accounts, but the one thing it can't stand is inauthenticity. For that reason, it has today pulled 137 accounts, not because they were engaging in hate speech, but because they were also creating accounts decrying their own sentiments in a spate of "coordinated inauthentic behaviour".
Yes, the phrase "coordinated inauthentic behaviour" could equally apply to every mysteriously perfect lifestyle Instagram shoot, but in this context, it refers to something far more sinister.
As Facebook puts it: "The individuals behind these accounts represented themselves as far-right and anti-far-right activists, frequently changed Page and Group names, and operated fake accounts to engage in hate speech and spread divisive comments on both sides of the political debate in the UK."
Does that sound familiar? It's precisely the 'stirring the pot' activity that was ongoing during the 2016 US election, and Facebook says these accounts have been active for some time, with paid ads placed between 2013 and 2018.
The company explained that the takedown involved 23 Facebook pages, 47 accounts and five groups, along with 35 Instagram accounts. In all, around 175,000 accounts followed one or more of them, and 4,500 followed more than one.
This could very well be the tip of the iceberg as Facebook tacitly acknowledges: "While we are making progress rooting out this abuse, as we've said before, it's an ongoing challenge because the people responsible are determined and well funded. We constantly have to improve to stay ahead."
That assumes they are staying ahead, but how would they know if they weren't? Bluntly, only just catching trouble that started in 2013 doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence.
Of course, without actually contacting the users who've followed these phoney accounts and telling them they've been manipulated, Facebook isn't doing much to educate its most gullible users. It wouldn't be hugely surprising if these accounts didn't return, making capital on the whole "Facebook censored us for our views" schtick, which would be deeply ironic given the censorship would actually be for not believing them enough. µ
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