Facebook Inc. (FB) is stepping up its war on spam, announcing over the weekend it removed tens of thousands of accounts that were part of an illegal ad network. Facebook said in a blog post over the weekend that it has been working to fight the spam network for six months.
Bad Ads, Bogus Links
Shabnam Shaik, a technical program manager at Facebook said the spam operation is “is made up of inauthentic likes and comments that appear to come from accounts located in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and a number of other countries.” Shaik said the majority of activity on the accounts was not generated through traditional “mass account creation methods,” but by more sophisticated means that tried to hide the fact the accounts were connected to the same spam network.
“They used tricks to avoid detection, including redirecting their traffic through ‘proxies’ that disguised their location,” Shaik wrote. “By disrupting the campaign now, we expect that we will prevent this network of spammers from reaching its end goal of sending inauthentic material to large numbers of people.”
The European Front
The purging of spam accounts comes just days after Facebook took its fight against fake news to Europe, saying it has suspended 30,000 user accounts in France just days ahead of the country's presidential election. Facebook said in a blog post last week it was removing the bogus accounts in France as part of its efforts to stop the spread of misinformation and fake news. Last year, Facebook faced intense criticism over how fake news on their site may have influenced the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. Facebook is trying to prevent that from happening in France, thus Thursday's action.
Shaik wrote in the blog post that as part of Facebook's war on fake news, it has made improvements that enable it to more easily recognize inauthentic accounts by identifying patterns of activity without having to assess the actual content. For example, the technology could detect repeated postings of the same content.
“We expect we will also reduce the spread of material generated through inauthentic activity, including spam, misinformation, or other deceptive content that is often shared by creators of fake accounts. In France, for example, these improvements have enabled us to take action against over 30,000 fake accounts,” Shaik wrote (See also: Facebook's Declares Total War On Fake News.)
Google Losing the Spam War
In recent months Facebook has been fighting back to protect its reputation with advertisers and users. Advertisers haven’t yet pulled ads from Facebook, but Facebook rival Google (GOOG) hasn’t been so lucky. Angry advertisers are retreating from Google-owned YouTube.com due to the placement of their ads alongside controversial content. Martin Sorrell, CEO of advertising giant WPP Group, recently warned that both Facebook and Google have a responsibility to make sure the news shared on their networks is real or risk losing advertising dollars. (See also, WPP CEO: Why Is There Fake News Next to My Ads?)
Among Facebook's efforts is the Journalism Project, which it launched this year to create a healthier news ecosystem on the platform. As part of this project, the company said it will promote news literacy and develop additional tools to fight false news. It also rolled out its "disputed" tag that now sits alongside stories on Facebook’s News Feed. If a user reports a news story as fake and it is deemed to be the case, the story will be tagged. Facebook is relying on non-partisan third parties to determine if a news story flagged is fake or factual. The social media operator already uses fact checkers in France and Thursday took out a full-page ad in the leading newspapers in Germany teaching readers how they can spot fake news, according to Reuters.