Facebook removes Thai military-linked information influencing accounts


FILE PHOTO: The Facebook logo is displayed on their website in an illustration photo taken in Bordeaux, France, February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Facebook Inc has taken down 185 accounts and groups engaged in an information-influencing operation in Thailand run by the military, the company said on Wednesday, the first time it has removed Thai accounts with ties to the government.

The Thailand-based network removed in the latest sweep of "coordinated inauthentic behaviour" on the platform included 77 accounts, 72 pages and 18 groups on Facebook and 18 accounts on Instagram, Facebook said.

The company said the accounts were linked to the Thai military and targeted audiences in the southern provinces of Thailand, where conflict has flared on and off for decades as insurgent groups continue a guerrilla war to demand independence.

Thailand's army spokesman declined to comment when contacted by Reuters, citing a matter of policy not to make comments outside of official news conferences.

Some 7,000 people have been killed during the past 15 years as a result of the insurgency in the Malay-speaking, largely Muslim southern region of predominantly Buddhist Thailand.

"This is the first time that we've attributed one of our takedowns to links to the Thai military," Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of Cybersecurity Policy, told Reuters in a briefing.

"We found clear links between this operation and the Thai military's Internal Security Operations Command. We can see that all of these accounts and groups are tied together as part of this operation."

The network, mainly active in 2020, used both fake accounts and authentic ones to manage groups and pages, including overt military pages and those that did not disclose their affiliations with the military, Gleicher said.

POSED AS INDIVIDUALS

Some of the fake accounts posed as individuals from Thailand's southern provinces, Gleicher said, adding that the network had spent about $350 on Facebook and Instagram advertisements.

Some 700,000 accounts followed one or more of the pages and about 100,000 accounts joined at least one of the groups, he added.

Gleicher said Facebook took action on the network based on deceptive behaviour and not the content posted, which included support for the military and the monarchy, and allegations of violence and criticism of insurgent groups in southern Thailand.

The move was Facebook's second takedown of information-influencing operations in Thailand, after one in 2019 involving 12 accounts and 10 pages that used "fictitious personas".

In October, Twitter Inc also took down 926 accounts it said were linked to the Thai army that promoted pro-army and pro-government content. The army denied it was behind the accounts.

Twitter in November also suspended a Thai pro-royalist account linked to the palace that a Reuters analysis found was connected to thousands of others that spread content in favour of Thailand's monarchy.

Facebook on Wednesday said it has taken down four other networks from Iran, Russia and Morocco engaged in such coordinated inauthentic behaviour.

The company said it has removed more than 100 networks engaged in inauthentic behaviour globally in recent years.

(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat in Bangkok; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Matthew Lewis)

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