How’s a Hardik Pandya FB Fan Page Tied to Iran & Indo-Pak Tensions

Facebook removed 513 pages, groups and accounts that were found to have originated from, or tied to, Iran.

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How’s a Hardik Pandya FB Fan Page Tied to Iran & Indo-Pak Tensions

On 10 August 2017, a Facebook page called “Hardik Pandya FC” popped up. Thirteen days later the name was updated to “Hardik Pandya Run Machine.” By 15 September it was called “Hardik Leaders News” and eventually came to be known as “The Leaders News” nine days later.

Strange but what’s the big deal?

Facebook on Tuesday, 26 March, announced that it had removed 513 pages, groups and accounts, including the Hardik Pandya page. Why? Because while many such pages pretended to be Indian, they were found to have originated from, or tied to, Iran.

These pages, according to the social media giant, were part of a “coordinated inauthentic behaviour.” This kind of coordinated behaviour is associated with the creation of a large number of inauthentic pages or accounts with the intention of misleading people by amplifying a certain type of news or content.

Facebook said these inauthentic pages have run from 2013 to February 2019 and “impersonated real political groups and media organisations” and “posted news stories on current events and frequently repurposed and amplified content from Iranian state media.”

So, what did they post on? The posts were related to tensions between India and Pakistan as well as Indian politics.

Apart from India, this coordinated behaviour linked to Iran also targeted Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Kashmir, Kazakhstan and broadly across the Middle East and North Africa in a similar manner.

A Hardik Pandya fan page found to be linked to a coordinated behaviour originating in Iran. 
A Hardik Pandya fan page found to be linked to a coordinated behaviour originating in Iran. 
(Photo courtesy: Facebook)

What Facebook Knows So Far

According to the statement published by Facebook, it is still working on finding out more details behind this behaviour. However, despite the attempt to conceal their identities, Facebook’s review linked these accounts to Iran.

“We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people.” Facebook said in its statement.

The California-based company clarified that the reason for taking down these pages and accounts was not their content but that they were manipulating people into thinking they were authentic. “We’re taking down these Pages based on their behaviour, not the content they posted”. 
How’s a Hardik Pandya FB Fan Page Tied to Iran & Indo-Pak Tensions
(Graphic: The Quint)

Thus far, 158 Facebook pages, 263 Facebook accounts, 35 groups and 57 Instagram accounts have been identified as linked to this coordinated behaviour.

Around 1.4 million accounts followed one or more of these pages and about 108,000 accounts joined at least one of these groups. Moreover, around 38,000 accounts followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.

The first ad ran in December 2013 and the most recent ad ran in February 2019.

Around $15,000 were spent on these advertisements. This amount was paid for in multiple currencies including Indian and Pakistani rupees.

‘Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour’ on the Rise

In October, Facebook had purged more than 800 US pages and accounts for spamming users with politically-tinged garbage links and clickbait just weeks ahead of the US midterm elections.

In December, it removed nine pages and six accounts in Bangladesh that were engaged in coordinated inauthentic behaviour. The removed Pages were designed to look like independent news outlets and posted pro-government and anti-Opposition content, the social networking giant found in an investigation.

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