Facebook said on February 12 that it had closed fake accounts in Myanmar and Vietnam that posed as “independent telecom consumer news hubs” in a bid to discredit rival telecom providers, marking the first time the social network has acted against commercial disinformation originating in these countries on its platform.
The social media giant accused two state-run telecom providers and one Vietnamese PR firm – Myanmar’s Mytel, Vietnam’s Viettel and Gapit Communications – of posing misleading content in Myanmar using fake accounts.
Facebook suspended a total of 13 accounts and 10 pages managed by fake accounts. With a total of 265,600 followers, these accounts and pages spent nearly $1.2 million on Facebook ad campaigns, the company said.
Posing as customers critical of the telecom firms’ competitors, the accounts shared content about alleged business failures and planned market exit of some service providers in Myanmar as well as their alleged fraudulent activities against their customers, according to Facebook.
Vietnam’s biggest telecom firm, Viettel is wholly owned by the country’s Defense Ministry and holds a 49 percent stake in Myanmar’s Mytel. Twenty-eight percent of Mytel is controlled by Star High Public Company, a subsidiary of military-owned conglomerate Myanmar Economic Corporation, and the remaining 23 percent is owned by a consortium of 11 Myanmar companies.
A Viettel spokesperson told the Financial Times that the company does not condone “any unethical or unlawful business practice” and that it was conducting an internal investigation to verify Facebook’s claims. Mytel meanwhile stated via an email that it will make inquiries to the relevant departments regarding the removal of Facebook pages and accounts. The firm will “take necessary measures” if the case is confirmed, it said.
Since August 2018, Facebook has suspended accounts associated with the Myanmar military for spreading “hate and misinformation,” including that of its commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, in the wake of a UN report accusing the armed forces of genocide and war crimes.
In December 2018, the company took down nearly 500 Facebook and Instagram accounts with links to the Myanmar military for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” a term that usually refers to the spread of disinformation.
It also removed 81 accounts on Facebook and Instagram that originated in Russia and Iran and were targeting the U.S., Ukraine and neighboring countries.
“We are making progress rooting out this abuse, but as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing challenge,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy.