ROME — Facebook says it has shut down some Italian accounts that were phony and pages that were spreading fake news ahead of European Union parliamentary elections.
“We have removed a number of fake and duplicate accounts that were violating our authenticity polices,” the social network said Sunday. It also took down pages that were posting false information as well as some that had started as non-political pages and built up followers, only to then switch names to become political sites.
Facebook acted last week after being tipped off by the campaign group Avaaz, which said in a statement that its investigation found 23 Italian Facebook pages spreading false information such as made up quotes and “divisive” anti-migration, anti-vaccine and anti-Semitic content.
Avaaz said the pages had about 2.5 million followers, and more than a dozen of the pages supported rightwing and populist parties.
“This is more proof that lies designed to sow hate and division in our societies are being spread deliberately on social media ahead of the EU elections,” Avaaz campaign director Christoph Schott said.
Facebook is stepping up efforts to combat fake news and hate speech around EU elections scheduled for May 23-26, in which voters in the bloc’s 28 nations will be able to cast ballots for hundreds of candidates.
The company has come under increasing pressure since 2016, when Russia’s use of social media to meddle with the U.S. presidential elections came into focus. CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially downplayed Facebook’s role in Russia’s influence operation, but the company later apologized.
The Silicon Valley company has set up an EU election operations center in Dublin staffed with engineers, data scientists and researchers to monitor for abuse related to the vote.
Experts say other groups are copying from Russia’s disinformation playbook.
“One thing to look out for in Europe will be domestic actors doing what the Russians had already been doing,” said Ben Nimmo, a researcher at the Atlantic Council. “Everyone’s seen what the Russians did. It’s not going to be any stretch of imagination to say, ‘If the Russians did it, why can’t I?”
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