Facebook takes down fake network supporting Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo

Gelo Gonzales
Facebook takes down fake network supporting Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo
The takedown takes place ahead of the Indonesian presidential elections on April 17

MANILA, Philippines – Two weeks after Facebook takes down the fake account network of Duterte-linked Nic Gabunada in the Philippines, the company announced, Friday, April 12, that it has taken down another network with similar propagandistic goals using similar methods, this time in Indonesia.

It’s a crucial time in Indonesia as the country’s presidential elections take place on April 17. The takedown is timely as the operation’s “potential for spreading false or divisive messaging” had been “significant” in spite of the overall operation being largely ineffective in terms of follower counts and engagement, said a report by disinformation watchdog Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab).

The network taken down was supportive of the candidate Prabowo Subianto, a former general who has been accused of human rights abuses and is seeking to “bolster the military establishment dramatically,” according to the DFRLab. Parbowo is running against incumbent President Joko Widodo, himself considered a strongman. (READ: Fake account network massively pro-Duterte – report)

A total of 234 Indonesian pages, accounts, and groups were removed “for spreading polarizing political messaging just a week before the country’s elections” or as Facebook puts it “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

Overall follower count was low at around 17,000, and maybe less because of repeat followers across different pages. Engagement was also low, but the danger was that the network managed over 100 Facebook groups, which “gave them the chance to achieve significantly more reach,” said DFRLab.

Facebook, as they have done in the past, makes clear that the network was taken down not for the content but for behavioral cues that indicate fake accounts pushing content in an organized, coordinated manner.

Like other similar networks taken down in the past, the pro-Prabowo network had telltale signs such as: 

1) Creating pages that mix in apolitical content likely as an audience-building method. One identified fake page posted about food and recipes: 

2) The publishing of similar content over several pages with little time differential. In the example below, 3 different pages posted on April 11, 2019, at 6:07 am and 6:08 am:

3) Facebook content linking to a similar set of external websites. In the example below, 3 pages linked to the same external sites Gelora.co and Nusanews.id also at around the same time: 

4) Several pages administering a similar set of Facebook groups

Through these methods, the goal is to push propaganda, which in this case favored Prabowo.

Facebook users could take note of those behaviors should they want to detect possible coordinated content for themselves.

“[The network] used fake accounts and frequently posted about local and political news including topics like upcoming elections, alleged election fraud, candidate views, and alleged misconduct of political figures. As always, we took action based on the behavior of these actors, not the content they posted,” Facebook said. – Rappler.com

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.