On Monday, social media giant Facebook announced that it had removed more than 1,000 pages from India and Pakistan, probably its largest such action ever in South Asia.
Given the central role of social media in the upcoming general elections, the action will have significant impact on Indian politics.
What exactly did Facebook do on Monday?
A statement by Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said that 687 pages and accounts linked to the Congress were being removed. The statement also singled out an Indian information technology firm named Silver Touch, the creator of the NaMo app for Narendra Modi. Fifteen Silver Touch pages were taken down. Facebook also took down 103 pages from Pakistan linked to the country’s military.
Facebook said that these pages were responsible for “coordinated inauthentic behavior”.
In addition, 321 Indian pages were removed for spam.
What is “coordinated inauthentic behavior”?
“Coordinated inauthentic behavior” is a term Facebook uses to describe the actions of groups of pages or people working together to mislead others about who they are or what they are doing.
Facebook stated that there were attempts made to conceal identity of people who ran the pages banned by Facebook on Monday. Moreover, there was significant use of fake Facebook accounts. Facebook also told the Indian Express that in some cases, pages run by a political party were pretending to be news pages.
This is not the first time Facebook has cracked down on coordinated inauthentic behaviour. In August, 2018, for examples, the social media company removed pages from Myanmar for the same violation.
Is “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” different from so-called “fake news”?
While coordinated inauthentic behaviour might include the sharing of “fake news” or factually incorrect information, this is not a necessary condition. The main identifier is an organised attempt to mislead.
For example, in the case of Myanmar, Facebook discovered that “seemingly independent news, entertainment, beauty and lifestyle pages were linked to the Myanmar military” and were taken down. In the action on Monday, pages run by Indian political parties were pretending to be news pages. Even if these pages had shared factually correct information, by misrepresenting themselves to a Facebook user, they were guilty of coordinated inauthentic behaviour.
Who was more affected – the BJP or the Congress?
The Facebook statement itself only mentioned the Congress information technology cell. Initial reports put out by news agencies, also focused on the Congress. However, as the scale of the action becomes clearer, the BJP seems to be more affected.
Pratik Sinha, from fact checking website Alt News, pointed out that the pro-Congress pages that were taken down had, in sum, a little more than 2 lakh subscribers. On the other hand, just one page (“The Indian Eye”) run by the BJP-leaning Silver Touch had 13 times that number: 26 lakh.
Moreover, Right-wing pages such as MyNation (owned by Asianet News Group which also owns Republic TV, with links to BJP MP Rajiv Chandrasekhar), Postcard, Dainik Bharat and NationWantsNamo were also removed on Monday, reported AltNews’ Mohammed Zubair. Postcard alone had more than 10 lakh subscribers. However, there has been no information from Facebook on why they were removed or for what reason.