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By Sarah E. Needleman
Facebook Inc. said it removed hundreds of fake accounts, pages and groups linked to a commercial entity based in Israel, a rare move against a private operation as the social network tries to stamp out misinformation around global elections.
The company Thursday said it took down a network of 265 accounts, pages and groups, including 65 Facebook and four Instagram accounts, that posted content primarily pertaining to elections and other political activity in Africa, as well as Latin America and Southeast Asia.
About 2.8 million accounts followed one or more of the inauthentic pages, Facebook said in a blog post. Nine events -- one dating back to October 2017 and one scheduled for May -- were organized by the pages, though Facebook said it didn't know if any events took place.
Archimedes Group didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Facebook has been working to remove bad actors from its platforms for years, but the latest incident appears to be the first involving a commercial entity, as opposed to a political or government-backed group, operating in a country that is a U.S. ally.
According to its website, Tel Aviv-based Archimedes Group promises clients it can "change reality according to our client's wishes" and says it has taken "significant roles in many political and public campaigns, among them Presidential elections." The company says it provides experts on social media, public relations, consulting and lobbying, and its website also displays photographs that appear to depict Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean.
Archimedes Group is run by chief executive Elinadav Heymann, according to his biography on Negotiations.Ch, a Switzerland-based negotiation-training and consulting firm that had recently listed him as an expert on its website. Another man, Yuval Harel, lists himself as the CEO on his LinkedIn page.
Mr. Heymann was previously the director of the European Friends of Israel at the European Parliament in Brussels and worked as a spokesman and adviser in Israel's parliament. He was also a senior intelligence agent in Israel's military.
Mr. Heymann spoke earlier this year at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a leading pro-Israel lobbying group, about building Israel's relationship with Africa.
Archimedes Group says it offers a campaign management suite, called Archimedes Tarva, that allows users to manage mass social-media campaigns with automation tools and unlimited account operation, according to its website.
In its post announcing the move, Facebook said it banned Archimedes Group and all of its subsidiaries from its platforms and issued a cease-and-desist letter.
The coordinated initiative Facebook said it identified shows the platform remains a popular target for those seeking to influence the company's hundreds of millions of users by masquerading as ordinary users themselves. Russian propagandists used the social network to spread misinformation and political discord in the U.S. before and after the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook has dismantled large numbers of fake accounts before. Last November, it said it removed 115 from Facebook and Instagram after being tipped off by U.S. law-enforcement officials that they were bogus and likely linked to foreign actors.
In January, Facebook said it was planning to make more information available world-wide about political ads purchased on its services. But the company's repeated problems with bad actors, coupled with widespread complaints over its mishandling of users' data, has prompted growing calls by U.S. and European lawmakers for tougher regulation.
Facebook currently faces a possible U.S. Federal Trade Commission fine of up to $5 billion over consumer-privacy violations.
Write to Sarah E. Needleman at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 16, 2019 14:23 ET (18:23 GMT)
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