Facebook Uncovers More Coordinated Inauthentic Activity, in Iraq and Ukraine

Accounts, pages and groups were removed

Content from one of the pages removed in Ukraine Facebook

Facebook removed pages, groups and accounts tied to two unconnected operations originating in Iraq and Ukraine, respectively, for coordinated inauthentic behavior.

Head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said in a Newsroom post that both operations created networks of accounts and used fake accounts to mislead users, adding, “We are making progress rooting out this abuse but, as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing challenge. We’re committed to continually improving to stay ahead. That means building better technology, hiring more people and working more closely with law enforcement, security experts and other companies.”

In Iraq, the social network removed 76 accounts, 120 pages, one group, two events and seven Instagram accounts, saying that the group behind this effort used fake accounts to amplify content and manage pages, and many of those pages were merged with one another and underwent name changes.

People were impersonated and their IDs were used to conceal the identities of the people behind the campaign in an effort to avoid detection and removal.

Content typically involved domestic political and social issues including religion, public figures (such as Saddam Hussein), the state of the military, tensions with Iran, U.S. military actions in Iraq, Iranian-backed militia operating in Iraq and Kurdish-Iraqi politics.

Gleicher said fewer than 1.6 million accounts followed one or more of the pages, while some 339,000 joined at least one of the groups and about 2,000 followed at least one of the Instagram accounts.

The events were scheduled for February and May 2016, and up to 15 people expressed interest in at least one of the events, but Facebook could not confirm whether either event actually took place.

Under $1,600 was spent on Facebook and Instagram ads by this group, paid for in U.S. and Canadian dollars and Malaysian ringgits.

Examples of content from some of the removed pages follow:

Page name translation: Iraqi in Turkey. Caption: Statement on the 15th anniversary of the first Falluja battle. 4/4/2004. In the Name of Allah the Most Merciful…
Page name translation: Peace Bird. Caption: I wanted to present to you a bouquet of flowers in celebration of the blessed Eid Al Adha… But we couldn’t find better than the smiling faces of men in their most difficult situations… An evidence of their bravery and manhood. Don’t choose the leaders that exaggerate their victory and dismiss their responsibility of failure.
Page name translation: Al Abbas News Network. Caption: #BreakingNews Happening Now || Sheikh Faisal al-Issawi and the tribes of Ameriya Fallujah and the security forces with the participation of coalition warplanes launched an attack on the area of Boadij towards the intersection of Al Salam and the area of Hosa, a number of houses in the area have been seized.
Page title translation: Author Raghd AlGabri. Caption: To those who say that Iraq is the aggressor against Iran, here is a summary. Please engage with this post in all the groups. #Lost_Details_We_Present_To_You #Reasons_We_Are_At_War_With_Iran. Yellow snipe on post: “Reasons that led us to be at war with evil Iran.. Exclusive to “Bird of Peace” page”

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, Facebook removed 168 accounts, 149 pages and 79 groups, saying that fake accounts were used to manage groups and pages, boost engagement and drive people to off-platform sites that posed as legitimate news outlets.

Content typically covered celebrities, show business, sports, news (local and international) and political and economic issues such as Ukrainian elections, political candidates and criticism of various public figures.

Gleicher said Facebook’s investigation linked this activity to Ukrainian public-relations firm Pragmatico.

According to Gleicher, less than 4.2 million accounts followed at least one of the removed pages, while some 401,000 joined one or more of the groups.

About $1.6 million was spent on Facebook and Instagram ads, paid for in U.S. dollars.

Examples of content from some of the removed pages follow:

Translation: Poroshenko’s minions were egged, even Yanukovich got better treatment: embarrassing video
Caption: No one expected this! Headline: A secret letter to Elena Zelenskaya leaked online. It is about her husband
Caption: The whole of Ukraine saw this embarrassment! Headline: Gerashenko was paid back for “illiterate Zelensky”, the embarrassment seen by whole of Ukraine
Caption: Zelenskiy started “cutting off the heads”? Headline: “Black cash box” of the regionals: General Prosecutor’s Office summons Kuchma’s son-in-law Pinchuk for questioning

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.