Facebook is removing 103 pages, groups and accounts linked to the media wing of Pakistan’s military, the social media giant announced Monday, calling them “fake” accounts created to manipulate people. The statement by Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, shines a rare light on efforts by Pakistan’s shadowy military establishment to use social media as a propaganda tool.
“Today we removed 103 Pages, Groups and accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour on Facebook and Instagram as part of a network that originated in Pakistan. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found that it was linked to employees of the ISPR (Inter-Service Public Relations) of the Pakistani military,” Gleichner said in the statement.
Gleichner said ISPR employees were operating military fan pages, as well as pages on Kashmir, “general Pakistani interest,” and local and political news including on topics such as arch-rival India’s army and politicians. Some 2.8 million accounts followed one or more of the pages, he said.
Examples included a post from a page called “Pakistan Army – the BEST,” with an image purporting to show a crashed Indian fighter jet with text reading: “Indian airforce has become a consistent failure which is evident from current embarrassment for India.”
Others praised Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan for promoting peace, or propagated unverified claims a Pakistani pilot had shot down five Indian planes.
“We are constantly working to detect and stop coordinated inauthentic behaviour because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people,” Gleichner said.
An ISPR spokesperson had no immediate comment when contacted by AFP.
Facebook also said it was removing 687 pages and accounts engaged in similarly “inauthentic” behaviour that were linked to India’s opposition Congress party, which is contesting nationwide elections due to start on 11 April. Congress reacted cautiously, with spokesperson Manish Tewari saying the party “will need to verify the veracity of these reports.”
A recent standoff between India and Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir saw a deluge of “fake news” hit social media, raising concerns over misinformation in the upcoming election in the world’s largest democracy.
Journalists in Pakistan, one of the most dangerous countries in the world for media, are regularly exhorted by the military to promote a positive image of the country. Any reporting considered critical of the military has long been considered a red flag, with reporters at times detained, beaten and even killed for falling foul of the security establishment. The army has stirred unease previously with declarations it is monitoring social media in Pakistan, where posts considered “against the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan” are against the law.