Social media company Facebook on Monday said it has removed 687 pages and accounts linked to individuals associated with an information technology cell of the Congress party, and 15 pages, groups and accounts on Facebook and Instagram linked to a pro-Bharatiya Janata Party group. The pages and accounts were deleted not because they peddled fake news, but for inauthentic behaviour and promoting spam, Facebook said.

According to AltNews, Facebook said that 2,06,000 accounts followed pages created by accounts linked to the Congress. However, 2.6 million accounts followed the pro-BJP pages and groups, which were associated with Silver Touch. And while the Congress-connected pages spent $39,000 on advertisements, $79,000 was spent on advertisements by Silver Touch.

Silver Touch Technologies is an IT firm that was established in Ahmedabad in 1992 and one of its jobs is providing IT solutions for e-governance. As part of this business wing, the company has developed various projects for the BJP government, including the NaMo App.

The move came days before India is set to begin voting for its next government. The 2019 General Elections will be held from April 11 to May 19 in seven phases, and the results will be announced on May 23.

The social media firm said that the 687 pro-Congress pages and accounts typically posted about local news and political matters, “including topics like coming polls, candidate views, the Indian National Congress and criticism of political opponents including the Bharatiya Janata Party”, ANI reported. “Our review found that it was connected to individuals associated with a Congress IT cell.”

The 15 pages, groups and accounts on its platform and Instagram were removed for “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, Facebook said, adding that their investigation found that the activity was linked to individuals associated with Indian IT firm Silver Touch. These pages or groups posted local news, political events, content on upcoming elections, the BJP and alleged misconduct of political opponents, including the Congress.

Among the pages recently removed were that of MyNation, which is owned by BJP MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s Asianet News Network.

A report by the social media company last week showed that the ruling BJP and its supporters have spent the most on political advertisements on Facebook since February.

A detailed investigative report in January by journalist Samrath Bansal had said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal mobile application, the NaMo App, is guilty of spreading misinformation. However, while the app is not liable to scrutiny, users cannot enjoy the discretion to not see the content posted by promoted accounts on the “My Network” section of the app.

One such account, The India Eye, promotes fake news, the report said. The India Eye also has a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and websites. In September last year, Alt News had provided details about the misinformation The India Eye promotes on social media and the NaMo App.

The company also removed 227 pages and 94 accounts in India for violating its policy against spam and misrepresentation.

“When we remove one of these networks, the reason we remove them is because of their coordinated inauthentic behaviour, that they are using network of fake accounts to conceal their mislead who’s behind them,” Facebook Head of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher said, according to PTI. “That’s the basic reason for removal.”

“We are constantly working to detect and stop coordinated inauthentic behaviour because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people,” Gleicher added.

‘Inauthentic behaviour from Pakistan’

Facebook has also removed 103 pages, groups and accounts on its platform and Instagram for indulging in inauthentic behaviour from Pakistan. “The individuals behind this activity used fake accounts to operate military fan pages, general Pakistani interest pages, and Kashmir community,” Facebook said. “Our investigation found that it was linked to employees of the Inter-Services Public Relations [the media arm of the Pakistan military].”

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