Meta removes over 140 Facebook accounts linked to Hamas

Over 160 Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to Hamas were removed by Meta in November.

 Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta is seen on smartpone in front of displayed logo of Facebook, Messenger, Intagram, Whatsapp and Oculus in this illustration picture taken October 28, 2021 (photo credit: DADO RUVIC/REUTERS ILLUSTRATION)
Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta is seen on smartpone in front of displayed logo of Facebook, Messenger, Intagram, Whatsapp and Oculus in this illustration picture taken October 28, 2021
(photo credit: DADO RUVIC/REUTERS ILLUSTRATION)

Over 140 Facebook accounts, 79 pages, 13 groups and 21 Instagram accounts linked to the Hamas terrorist group were removed by Meta in November for "coordinated inauthentic behavior" (CIB), the company announced on Wednesday.

The relevant accounts, pages and groups were being operated from the Gaza Strip and primarily targeted people in the Palestinian territories, and to a lesser extent in Egypt and Israel. The pages and groups were managed by fake accounts.

Meta describes CIB as "coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal where fake accounts are central to the operation." When such efforts are discovered, the company removes both inauthentic and authentic accounts, pages and groups directly involved in the activity.

According to Meta, some of the pages claimed to be operated by news entities and communities from the West Bank, Israel and Sinai Peninsula, while others claimed to be independent news pages in the Palestinian territories.

The accounts primarily posted news stories, cartoons and memes in Arabic about current events in the region, including the postponed Palestinian election, criticism of Israeli defense policy, Fatah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and supportive commentary about Hamas.

Palestinian Hamas militants take part in an anti-Israel rally in Gaza City May 22, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)Palestinian Hamas militants take part in an anti-Israel rally in Gaza City May 22, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)

About 407,000 accounts followed at least one of the pages, around 2,000 people joined at least one of the groups and about 6,000 accounts followed at least one of the Instagram accounts. About $21,000 was spent on Facebook and Instagram ads, primarily paid for in US dollars, according to the report.

The report included a few sample posts, including one cautioning against alleged attempts by Israel to impersonate charities in order to gather information for operations and a post from the Palestine 21 news network.

The report also discussed how Meta had removed CIB networks from Poland, Belarus and China which had featured fake accounts talking about issues such as migrants, criticism of Poland and COVID-19.

"The networks used different behaviors, but all have one thing in common — each actively coordinated to target people and abuse our systems," wrote Meta in their Adversarial Threat Report on Wednesday. "As we continue building our understanding of these emerging threats, we will keep sharing our findings with industry peers, independent researchers, law enforcement and policymakers - including on these new disruptions — so we can collectively improve our defenses. We welcome feedback from external experts as we refine our approaches."

Earlier this month, Palestinian media reported that the Maydan Alquds and Al-Qastal news pages on Facebook had been removed for violating community guidelines. The two pages focused on news in Jerusalem.

Despite the reported removal, as of December 2 there was one Facebook page for Maydan Alquds operating since November 22 and two Facebook pages for Al-Qastal, one of which was created on November 21 this year and another which was created on December 10 of last year. Altogether, the three pages have about 50,000 followers.

In September, Facebook's Oversight Board recommended that Facebook conduct an independent review after complaints that it disproportionately removed or demoted content from Palestinian and content in Arabic in comparison to its treatment of posts threatening anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian violence in Israel. Facebook also received complaints that it was not doing enough to remove content inciting violence against Israelis.