Facebook, Twitter remove accounts tied to inauthentic pro-Trump network

Facebook, Twitter remove accounts tied to inauthentic pro-Trump network
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Facebook and Twitter on Friday removed a network of fake accounts linked to the pro-Trump conspiracy website The Epoch Times.

Facebook in a blog post said it had connected the accounts to U.S.-based media company The BL, which in turn has ties to The Epoch Times. 

Stephen Gregory, publisher of the U.S. editions of The Epoch Times, said in an article that Epoch Media Group has no connection to BL, noting that it is a part of Epoch Times Vietnam.

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"The BL was founded by a former employee, and employs some of our former employees. However, that some of our former employees work for BL is not evidence of any connection between the two organizations," he wrote after the removals.

That group, with ties to the Chinese spiritual group Falun Gong, has used social media to push for President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report MORE's reelection, NBC News first reported in August.

The hundreds of accounts were operated by individuals in Vietnam and the U.S., many of whom used artificial intelligence to generate profiles to infiltrate groups and dodge Facebook enforcement.

The individuals then pretended to be Americans and posted anti-impeachment and pro-Trump messages, often linking back to The BL's website.

The accounts were removed because of the way they operated — coordinated inauthentic behavior, misrepresentation and violating spam rules — rather than the content they posted.

Facebook removed 610 Facebook accounts, 89 pages, 156 groups and 72 Instagram accounts.

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Roughly 55 million individuals followed at least one of the accounts and an estimated 92,000 people followed one or more of the Instagram accounts, showing a broad reach. For context, Trump himself has 26 million followers.

"The BL is now banned from Facebook," Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, said in the blog post. "We are continuing to investigate all linked networks, and will take action as appropriate if we determine they are engaged in deceptive behavior."

The network of Facebook accounts and groups was first identified by Snopes in October.

A spokesperson for Twitter confirmed to The Hill that it had also removed 700 accounts originating in Vietnam for "violating our rules around platform manipulation."

The removal of accounts from The BL illustrates growing issues facing social media platforms over reining in misleading content, especially when that content can affect political outcomes.

Just on Friday, Facebook announced that it had removed hundreds of accounts and pages pushing misinformation in Georgia, while Twitter removed more than 88,000 accounts linked to Saudi Arabia, citing concerns they were involved in spreading pro-government propaganda and spam.

--This report was updated on 12/27 to include Epoch's distancing