Facebook has taken down 103 “assets” — pages, groups and accounts — linked to employees of Pakistan Army’s media wing and involved in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, the social media giant said on Monday.

The company — which shared details on “four separate, distinct and unconnected” takedowns linked to both Pakistan and India — said it had removed the pages, accounts and groups set up by the networks “for violating Facebook’s policies on coordinated inauthentic behaviour or spam”.

“Today we removed 103 pages, groups and accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour on Facebook and Instagram as part of a network that originated in Pakistan,” said a statement issued by Nathaniel Gleicher, the company’s head of Cybersecurity Policy.

The coordinated inauthentic behaviour is when groups of pages or people work together to mislead others about who they are or what they are doing. “Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found that it was linked to employees of the ISPR (Inter-Service Public Relations) of the Pakistani military,” the statement said.

There was no immediate comments from the Pakistan Army on the issue.

‘Network of fake accounts’

Quoting Gleicher, Dawn newspaper said, “The takedown is because there is this network of fake accounts that they are using to conceal their identity and make these pages look independent, when in fact they are not.”

These pages, groups and accounts represent themselves as independent but in fact, are part of a coordinated operation, the official said. He said that Facebook could not say whether the activity was directed by the organisation or the employees were acting on their own.

“There were multiple employees engaged in this,” he said, adding that Facebook is “highly confident” of the identity of the people involved. He clarified that the social media giant was removing accounts based on their behaviour, not the content they posted.

The company investigation found that the network in Pakistan was spread across 24 pages on Facebook and Instagram, 57 Facebook accounts, 7 Facebook groups, and 15 Instagram accounts. “The individuals behind this activity used fake accounts to operate military fan pages; general Pakistani interest pages; Kashmir community pages; and hobby and news pages. They also frequently posted about local and political news including topics like the Indian government, political leaders, and military,” the Facebook said.

It said about 2.8 million accounts followed one or more of these pages, about 4,700 accounts joined at least one of these groups, and around 1,050 accounts followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.

“Around USD 1,100 in spending for ads on Facebook paid for in US dollars and Pakistani rupees. The first ad ran in May 2015 and the most recent ad ran in December 2018,” the statement said.

Contact with the authorities

Gleicher did not specify the number of individuals identified as being part of the network, nor did he elaborate on how the links between them and the blocked pages and accounts were established. “For security purposes we cannot get too specific about how we make these links,” he said because this sort of monitoring is an ongoing activity. “We do not generally inform the individuals involved but we are in touch with the policy makers (of the countries),” said Gleicher.

When asked about which policy makers they had reached out to in Pakistan, he named the Prime Minister’s Office and “social media advisor”.