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.
In a statement released on Thursday, Facebook said the activity originated in Israel and focused on Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia. The company was found to have spent around $812,000 on ads on Facebook paid for in Brazilian reals, Israeli shekel, and US dollars between December 2012 and April 2019.
They represented themselves as locals and local news organizations and published allegedly leaked information about politicians which gained them a following of 2.8 million accounts, said Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy, Nathaniel Gleicher.
They also used fake accounts to run the Pages which frequently posted “about political news, including topics like elections in various countries, candidate views and criticism of political opponents” thereby artificially increasing engagement, said the statement.
“It has repeatedly violated our misrepresentation and other policies, including by engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior. This organization and all its subsidiaries are now banned from Facebook, and it has been issued a cease and desist letter,” it added.
The Israeli firm claims on its website that it has taken “significant roles in many political and public campaigns, among them Presidential elections and other social media projects all over the world.”
Facebook has come under scrutiny over the proliferation of fake news on its platforms especially during elections across the world. The social networking company has taken several measures including the launch of fact-checking tools to curb the problem.
The fake news problem has also ignited discussions on cybersecurity in Africa where some countries like Kenya have passed laws that criminalize the dissemination of fake news.
Last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the Computer and Cybercrimes Bill, 2017, which spells out harsh punishment for those who use computers for unauthorised interference, unauthorised interception, unauthorised disclosure of passwords, cyber espionage, false publications, child pornography, cyber terrorism and wrongful distribution of obscene or intimate images.
“The Act also deals with computer forgery, computer fraud, cyber harassment, publication of false information, cybersquatting, identity theft and impersonation, phishing, interception of electronic messages or money transfers, willful misdirection of electronic messages and fraudulent use of electronic data among other cyber crimes,” said a statement on the government website.
Human rights activists have raised concerns about such laws insisting that clauses on the spread of false information could be used to target the media.