CRIME

Facebook Takes Down Pro-Zakzaky Accounts After Stanford Internet Observatory Report

Facebook on 8th October 2020 announced that they have on 6th October taken down various pro-Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) accounts for violating Facebook’s coordinated inauthentic behaviour (CIB). The pages were found to be managed by fake and duplicate accounts. “We removed 79 Facebook accounts, 47 Pages, 93 Groups and 48 Instagram accounts engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior. This activity originated primarily in Nigeria and focused on domestic audiences. The people behind this activity used fake and duplicate accounts to manage Groups and Pages posing as independent news entities, and to drive people to their off-platform sites. Many of these accounts used stock images and photos of Ibrahim Zakzaky, the head of Nigeria’s Islamic Movement (IMN), Ayatollah Khomeini and Qasem Soleimani.” Facebook said in their report.

“This network amplified particular hashtags including #FreeZakzaky after the arrest of IMN’s founder. The Page admins and account owners posted primarily in Hausa, and also in English and Arabic about local news and events including IMN being a peaceful movement, protests across Nigeria, and criticism of the Nigerian armed forces, police, President Buhari and the ban of IMN.

“We identified this activity through our investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region with some limited links to the network we removed in March 2019. Although the people behind this operation attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation linked this activity to the Islamic Movement in Nigeria.

“Presence on Facebook and Instagram: 79 Facebook accounts, 47 Pages, 93 Groups and 48 Instagram accounts.
Followers: Around 82,000 accounts followed one or more of these Pages, about 131,500 accounts joined at least one of these Groups, and around 25,000 people followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.
Advertising: Less than $8,500 spent on Facebook and Instagram ads paid for primarily in US dollars.”

Click here to view the announcement by Facebook Inc on their website.

Facebook Inc attached the following as samples of posts made by some of the pages taken down.

A co-author of the Stanford Internet Observatory Report, Shelby Grossman, clarified that the network of accounts were not taken down due to the contents of their posts per se, rather, because the affected pages and groups were run by fake accounts. And it is this behaviour that Facebook technically terms “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, CIB.

She said via her Twitter account: “🇳🇬Today Facebook announced the removal of a network of accounts run by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. My Stanford Internet Observatory team analyzed the network before it was taken down. Our report: https://cyber.fsi.stanford.edu/news/islamic-movement-nigeria

“The network was suspended not because of the content of the posts, but rather because the Facebook Pages and Groups were run by fake accounts. Facebook calls this coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

A list of accounts and their administrators. Credits: Shelby Grossman

Grossman added: “The Facebook Pages and Groups advocated for the release of IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky.”

The accounts affected posted Pro-Zakzaky messages regularly. Credit: Shelby Grossman

She said although the network’s operation primarily originated in Nigeria; there were apparent and interesting connections to Iran. To be precise, five of those pages had administrators located in Iran and linked out to HausaTV.com, which itself is linked to the state media of Iran.

Picture credit: Shelby Grossman

The direct link to the download of the full report by the Stanford Internet Observatory team is available. Please click here to download.

To read the article by the Stanford Cyber Policy Center, please click this link.

Sources: Stanford Cyber Policy Center; Facebook Inc.

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