(Reuters) – Facebook said Tuesday it had removed a network of bogus Chinese accounts that interfered in Asian and American politics, including some accounts posting material that U.S. President Donald Trump supports and disapproves.
The social networking company said it banned 155 accounts on its main platform and six Instagram accounts. The most-visited reports and sites were in the Philippines, where they shared content supporting China’s actions in the embattled South China Sea and President Rodrigo Duterte.
The US accounts had fewer followers and posted content that fueled both sides of the November 3rd US election, the company said.
Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook’s cybersecurity policy, said the takedown was the first Chinese-based company account for outside interference in US politics. But he said the American reports and groups seemed to be primarily aimed at building an audience.
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“The volume of content is so small that it is very difficult to judge what your goal is,” said Gleicher.
Trump and his intelligence officials said China favored Democratic challenger Joe Biden, while Democrats in Congress said Russia was more aggressive.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment.
The network of accounts, pages and groups used virtual private networks and other tools to create the impression that they were operated from a location other than China, according to Facebook.
Fewer than 3,000 people followed the fake American sites, while more than 100,000 accounts followed those in the Philippines.
The U.S. assets of the operation added between May and August included a group called Biden Harris 2020, with around 1,400 members, and one called Trump KAG 2020, which, according to analytics firm Graphika, was studying the material, Trump’s re-election and only had three members from Facebook.
In the Philippines, Accounts supported both Duterte and his daughter, who could potentially succeed him in 2022. They also criticized Rappler, an independent media group that is a frequent target of the Duterte government.
(Reporting by Joseph Menn, editing by Lisa Shumaker.)