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Pragmatico operation: Facebook removed coordinated inauthentic behavior from Ukraine

Author : 112.ua News Agency

Multiple Pages, Groups and accounts that were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram in Ukraine and Iraq
12:22, 18 September 2019

Open source

Multiple Pages, Groups and accounts that were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram in Ukraine and Iraq. In other words, they were spreading misinformation.

“We’re constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people. We’re taking down these Pages, Groups, and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted. In each of these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action. We have shared information about our analysis with our industry partners,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy, says.

Related: Facebook pays contractors to decrypt users' audio chats

As a result, 76 accounts, 120 Facebook Pages, one Group, two Events, and seven Instagram accounts for engaging in domestic-focused coordinated inauthentic behavior in Iraq were removed.

In addition, 168 accounts, 149 Facebook Pages and 79 Groups for engaging in domestic-focused coordinated inauthentic behavior in Ukraine were removed.

Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review linked this activity to Pragmatico, a Ukrainian PR firm.

  • Presence on Facebook: 168 Facebook accounts, 149 Pages and 79 Groups.
  • Followers: Less than 4.2 million accounts followed one or more of these Pages and about 401,000 accounts joined at least one of these Groups.
  • Advertising: About $1.6 million spent on Facebook and Instagram ads paid for in US dollars.

Related: Russia accuses Google and Facebook of interfering in elections

Interestingly

Accounts of Znaj.ua, Politeka, Akcenty, and Hyser outlets were among the deleted pages.

“The people behind this activity used fake accounts to manage Groups and a number of Pages — some of which changed their names over time, and also to increase engagement, disseminate content and drive people to off-platform sites posing as news outlets. The Page admins and account owners typically posted about celebrities, show business, sports, local and international news, political and economic issues including Ukrainian elections, political candidates and criticism of various public figures,” Gleicher writes.

In addition, fake accounts were used to increase audience engagement, distribute content and attract people to sites outside of Facebook that are positioned as news.

"The page administrators and account owners published information about celebrities, show business, sports, local and international news, political and economic issues, including the Ukrainian elections," Gleicher writes.

Related: Facebook blocks Ukrainian ‘troll factory:’ well-known media among them

According to him, despite the attempts of the people behind this activity to hide their identity, all the threads led to the Pragmatico PR company.

What do we know about Pragmatico?

There is no information on Pragmatico in open sources. The company’s Facebook page has already been deleted; according to Liga.net, it had only four likes.

The publication conducted an investigation and talked with a girl who has been to Pragmatico for an interview. According to her, the company was engaged in political PR and promotion of politicians on Facebook. She gave reporters several contacts of the leaders, but when they tried to contact them, they said that they had not heard about Pragmatico.

Reaction of Facebook

“We are making progress rooting out this abuse, but as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing challenge. We’re committed to continually improving to stay ahead. That means building better technology, hiring more people and working more closely with law enforcement, security experts and other companies,” Gleicher noted.

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