Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has released their latest Adversarial Threat Report for the year, which details the risks and policy violations that they’re seeing worldwide. It’s a long document, which you can see here for the full report, but one section in particular seemed quite intriguing, especially for Malaysians.
According to Meta, they’ve found evidence of Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour (CIB) originating in Malaysia. CIB is defined by Meta as a coordinated effort to ‘manipulate public debate for a strategic goal’, and includes using fake accounts on its social media platforms. They then work to get these fake accounts to mislead other people regarding who they are and what they’re up to. Meta says that the content isn’t really the focus here either, but rather the behaviour of these acccounts.
This suspected CIB ‘troll farm’ in Malaysia was no small feat either. Meta says that they’ve found 596 Facebook accounts, 180 Facebook pages, 11 Facebook groups and 72 Instagram accounts all part of this one troll farm in Malaysia. In total, they had racked up approximately 427,000 accounts as followers on at least one of these pages, with 4,000 accounts part of their Facebook groups and another 15,000 followers on their Instagram accounts. All of these accounts have since been removed by Meta.
Meta claims links to PDRM
Perhaps the most damning part of the report though is regarding the origins and people behind the operation. According to Meta, while they originally tracked this group down and suspected them to come from China, they eventually found links to the Royal Malaysian Police.
“We found this network after reviewing information about a small portion of this activity initially suspected to have originated in China by researchers at Clemson University.
Although the people behind it attempted to conceal their identity and coordination, our investigation found links to the Royal Malaysia Police,” – Meta Adversarial Threat Report Q2 2022
This troll farm operation also apparently spent around USD6,000 (~RM26,739) on ads to boost their presence on Facebook and Instagram, with most of it paid to Meta using Malaysian Ringgit. All of this was part of a coordinated effort by co-located operators to corrupt and manipulate public discourse. Meta says that they often operated across various social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok, Twitter and Instagram, and would for example post memes in Malay in support of the current government coalition, which as Meta notes, currently has claims of corruption among its critics.
On Facebook in particular, this troll farm operation managed their pages in various ways. These included pretending to be independent news companies, posting in support of the police, and criticising the opposition. They would typically post the most during the weekdays, and would literally stop posting around lunch time. Meta says that the fake accounts behind them were actually pretty under-developed too, with some of them using stolen profile photos. A number of them were also detected and disabled by their automated systems.