Facebook shuts dozens of Myanmar pages over 'inauthentic behaviour'

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FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Facebook said on Friday it dismantled dozens of accounts and pages run in Myanmar by commercial operators because of what it described as inauthentic behaviour, including some it said were using fictitious people to back a political party.

More than half of Myanmar's 53 million people use the social media platform, which for many is synonymous with the internet.

In its monthly report, Facebook said it had taken down a network of 36 accounts and six pages run by a Myanmar public relations agency, Openmind, because it said they were using fictitious people to promote the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

In a response posted on its Facebook account, Openmind said it was not involved in any political activities and did not create any accounts for USDP.

USDP spokeswoman Ya Min Myint Swe said she had no knowledge of the public relations agency.

Reuters reported on Friday that dozens of Facebook pages in Myanmar were spreading ethnically and religiously charged falsehoods ahead of Sunday's general election, including some pages linked to networks run by the Myanmar military.

Separately, Facebook took down on Friday over three dozen pages publishing Myanmar-related content flagged by Reuters that the social media company said was connected to separate spam networks it dismantled last month.

The pages had "clickbait" content including on celebrity gossip and misinformation on the coronavirus. Some had up to a million followers.

A report by social media analytics firm Graphika in October found the spam networks would redirect users to advertising-heavy websites with some political and pro-military content.

Researchers Victoire Rio and Myat Thu, who co-wrote the report, told Reuters they were currently monitoring over 900 similar clickbait pages, with a combined 225 million followers.

While considered primarily financially motivated, Rio warned that such pages could be hired out or co-opted by political actors for events such as the upcoming Myanmar election.

"By leveraging their various Facebook pages and groups, these actors have the power to turn any story, true or false, into national news within the space of a few hours," Rio said. (This story corrects to make clear role and title of researchers in paragraph 10)

(Reporting by Fanny Potkin & Poppy McPherson; Editing by Ed Davies and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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