Facebook bans fake Israel-based accounts that spent $812,000 on ads

Facebook                  James Martin  CNET

Facebook James Martin CNET

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Facebook has announced the removal of 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts, Facebook Pages, Groups and events linked to an Israeli company, Archimedes Group, which has targeted African elections and politicians using fake news.

The activity appeared focused on Sub-Saharan African countries but was also scattered in parts of Southeast Asia and Latin America, what Brookie called a "staggering diversity of regions" that pointed to the group's sophistication.

Almost 2.8 million accounts followed numerous pages that have since been taken down, about 5,500 accounts joined at least one of the groups and approximately 920 people followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.

The Israeli company Archimedes Group spent more than $800,000 running Facebook ads and their accounts had nearly 3 million followers, Facebook said in a blog post announcing the removals Thursday.

Facebook posted screen grabs of accounts that they say were affiliated with the Israeli Archimedes Group that they have deactivated for spreading misinformation.

Facebook did not outline how many accounts belonged to the Archimedes Group, but stated that it had closed down 65 Facebook accounts, 161 pages, 23 groups, 12 events, and four Instagram accounts.

The company was found to have spent around $812,000 on ads on Facebook paid for in Brazilian reals, Israeli shekel, and USA dollars between December 2012 and April 2019.

"In addition to removing these assets from the platform, our team has assessed that this group is primarily organized to conduct this kind of deceptive behavior", said Gleicher.

Facebook has come under scrutiny over the proliferation of fake news on its platforms especially during elections across the world.

Facebook has been much less forthcoming about this particular campaign than some previous mass takedowns, perhaps because the culprits aren't linked to Russian Federation or Iran, while Facebook regularly cooperates with the Israeli government to have politically inconvenient accounts deleted.

While it can be challenging to determine the motive behind an operation like this, Gleicher said, the Archimedes Group "appeared to work on behalf of public figures and political figures, working to push positive narratives about them and to push criticism of their political opponents".

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