Facebook takes down Pakistan military-backed pages targeting India

Facebook has toughened up its rules governing political advertisements in India and many other countries to increase transparency

Facebook has toughened up its rules governing political advertisements in India and many other countries to increase transparency

However, the Congress party denied the allegations.

In recent times, Facebook took firm steps to regulate political advertisements in order to ensure that the platform is not used for spreading misinformation when the general elections in the world's largest democracy are around the corner.

Facebook's announcement comes at a time when it has been facing increasing pressure across the world over the use of its platforms by politically aligned groups, many of which hide their true identity.

India's staggered election, scheduled to begin on April 11, will end on May 19.

In a blog post, Facebook - which has over 200 million users in India - said the pages and accounts removed had spent around United States dollars 39,000 for ads on Facebook, paid for in Indian rupees.

Gleicher also revealed that Facebook had taken down almost 687 pages and accounts linked to the social media department or IT Cell of the Indian National Congress, the leading opposition party in India. We will have to check the veracity of the report. We removed 321 Facebook pages and accounts in India that have broken our rules against spam. However, 2.6 million accounts followed "Silver Touch", which is linked with the ruling BJP. "Additionally, all pages run by our verified volunteers are also unaffected". The party is awaiting a response from Facebook to provide a list of all pages and accounts which were removed, it said.

The online social media space has become an increasingly contested issue in Pakistan in recent years.

"We didn't find any links between the campaigns we've removed today, but they used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others", Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cyber security policy at Facebook, said in a statement.

The company's review found individuals using fake accounts and issuing posts including criticism of the BJP who were "associated with an INC (Indian National Congress) IT Cell".

Two of the samples shared by Facebook were of posts that criticized Modi's initiatives and called for supporting the Congress party and its president, Rahul Gandhi.

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"Although the people behind this activity attempted to hide their identities, our investigation found that it was linked to employees of the ISPR of the Pakistani military", said the statement.

The only link Facebook saw was that the company was associated with a mobile application promoted by Modi, Gleicher said, without elaborating.

"The takedown is because there is this network of fake accounts that they are using to hide their identity and make these pages look independent, when in fact they are not", Gleicher told Dawn.com.

And while the Congress-connected pages spent $39,000 on ads, $79,000 was spent on ads by Silver Touch. An additional 15 Instagram accounts were also removed.

In its statement, Facebook said that the accounts that had been removed were part of coordinated networks and had been removed for "inauthentic behaviour" and for pushing spam on the social media platform.

Those accounts were being run by employees of the Pakistani military's public relations arm, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Facebook said.

Dawn.com has reached out to ISPR for comment.

The social media giant has also removed 15 Facebook pages, groups and accounts that were linked to individuals associated with an Indian IT firm called "Silver Touch".

Facebook has been taking such measures across the globe.

"These are multiple sets of Pages and accounts that behaved similarly and violated our policies", Gleicher said.

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