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Facebook Report on Trolls’ Activity in Moldova: ‘Some of this Activity Was Linked to Employees of the Moldovan Government’

14 February 2019
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Fake accounts on Facebook, with which the Trolless application has been fighting since 2016, have come to the attention of Facebook company. Earlier this week, the representatives of this network developed a special report for the Republic of Moldova, informing that they had removed 168 Facebook accounts, 28 pages and eight Instagram accounts for engaging in coordinated behavior targeting people in Moldova. ‘We identified these accounts through our internal investigation into Moldova-linked coordinated inauthentic behavior. Our investigation benefited from a tip shared by a local civil society organization’ stated a Facebook release on Thursday, 14 February, promising to continue the investigations.

The authors of the Trolless application, initially developed under the ‘Fifth Power’ media Hachathon, organized by the Independent Journalism Center in 2016, managed to report over 700 fake accounts to Facebook. Recently, they were officially informed that Facebook initiated, at its initiative, and conducted an own investigation into ‘Moldova-linked coordinated inauthentic behavior’.    
According to the Facebook release, the trolls in Moldova used a combination of fake accounts and some authentic accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing. They typically posted about local political issues. They also shared manipulated photos and messages, and even impersonated a local fact checking organization’s Page that called out other Pages for spreading fake news.

‘Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our manual review found that some of this activity was linked to employees of the Moldovan Government’, the Facebook report said.
Stela Nistor, Main State Advisor in the Prime Minister’s cabinet, told Ziarul de Garda that the Government would come with an official answer.
Those 168 Facebook accounts, 28 pages, and eight Instagram accounts reviewed by Facebook were followed by about 54,000 accounts and around 1,300 accounts followed at least one of the eight Instagram accounts.
The report also states that less than $20,000 has been spent for ads on Facebook and Instagram paid for in US dollars, euros and Romanian leu. ‘We have not completed our review of the organic content coming from these accounts’, said Facebook.
‘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’, mentioned Facebook, adding that these accounts are removed because of the behavior of people or groups, not because of the content they post.
Given that such a ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior’ is most often seen during election campaigns, Facebook published this report to let people in Moldova know about the action it has taken to detect the trolls and the facts as it knows them today.
‘We identified these accounts through our internal investigation into Moldova-linked coordinated inauthentic behavior. Our investigation benefited from a tip shared by a local civil society organization’, stated the release.

Trolless authors have been investigating fake accounts on Facebook for a few years. Following the development of the application under the media Hackathon in 2016, in 2018, with the support of the Independent Journalism Center, Internews Moldova and USAID, under ‘MEDIA-M’ program, the Trolless team launched a platform with the same name, where trolls’ activity is documented. The documentary material was brought to Facebook attention with the urge to take action to combat the phenomenon.

UPDATE: Subsequently, the Government came with an answer, publishing a press release on its Facebook page. According to the press release, the Government will ask Facebook for additional information on this report. ‘We welcome any initiative to fight the fake news phenomenon, common in Western countries, but especially in Eastern Europe. In Moldova, it takes the form of propaganda websites, fake accounts on Facebook, Odnoklassniki and other social networks, as well as fake news broadcast by radio or TV stations. As regards the comments or posts made by the employees of public institutions, note that more than 200,000 employees are paid from the state budget and that the Moldovan Government does not check the activity of its employees on the social private accounts. Moreover, they have different political options and opinions, and the Government must keep the boundary between fighting the fake news phenomenon and guaranteeing citizens’ freedom of expression’, the Government’s official press release said.