MENLO PARK, CA: Facebook has removed dozens of fake accounts and pages managed by Washington, DC-based strategic communications firm CLS Strategies.
The accounts were deleted in August, according to a Facebook report on inauthentic behavior released on Tuesday. It was the first time the platform deleted fake accounts run by a U.S. PR firm, according to BuzzFeed.
The company eliminated 26 Facebook accounts, 46 Facebook pages and 36 Instagram accounts managed by CLS that violated the platform’s policy against foreign interference, which Facebook defines as coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign entity. The CLS network was focused on internal events in Venezuela, Mexico and Bolivia.
Facebook only removed CLS Facebook pages involved with inauthentic behavior in those countries and not other social media activity. The CLS pages and accounts deleted by Facebook were followed by 509,000 other accounts, and approximately 43,000 people followed one or more of CLS’ Instagram accounts. CLS was also involved in purchasing $3.6 million in Facebook ads.
Asked for comment, CLS said via email that it “has a long tradition of doing international work, including on social media, to promote free and open elections and to oppose oppressive regimes, and we take seriously our commitment to adhering to the fast-evolving policies of Facebook and other social media platforms.”
The firm did not respond to questions about why it created fake accounts.
A Facebook representative could not be reached for comment.
The company discovered the CLS network while conducting an investigation into “suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region” and it specifically found pages purporting to belong to independent news entities, civic organizations and political fan groups. Others were made to look like the pages of local citizens or political parties.
The content of these accounts was focused on civic events and elections, as well as general news and current events, politics and political figures, elections and political crises in Venezuela, Mexico and Bolivia. It supported Venezuela’s political opposition and Bolivia’s interim government and criticized the Mexican political party Morena, or the National Regeneration Movement.
CLS has worked for Bolivia, according to Foreign Agents Registration Act documents filed last December with the Justice Department.
At that time, the company signed a 90-day deal with the country for $90,000 to “provide strategic communications counsel in matters such as Bolivia's free and fair elections set for 2020 and the strengthening of democracy and human rights in Bolivia.”
The deal involved “creating and distributing communications materials, interfacing with the media and providing communications services,” according to the filing, which did not specifically mention Facebook or other social media platforms.