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Facebook axes pages that supported Robert Hyde, figure in impeachment probe

Facebook said it didn't get the info it sought from the page owners after it found the pages were "misleading people by concealing who controls them."

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Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook has removed a network of dozens of pages that posted content supporting Robert Hyde, a Republican donor and congressional candidate who's become a figure in the events surrounding US President Donald Trump's impeachment. The pages said they were the work of various Trump supporters in different states but several of the pages had the same contact information as Hyde's campaign website, The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday.

"When we find networks of Pages misleading people by concealing who controls them, we require those owners to show additional information," Facebook said in an emailed statement Saturday. "In this case, the necessary disclosure was not made, so per our policy, the Pages have been removed."

Documents released Tuesday by congressional Democrats appear to show Hyde was involved in tracking former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch was later sacked by Trump and testified during House impeachment hearings that she'd been the target of a smear campaign that alleged she interfered with investigations into Trump rival Joe Biden. Hyde has denied tracking Yovanovitch and has said he was joking in text messages referenced in the documents. 

The pages removed by Facebook, with names such as California Supporters for President Donald J. Trump, collectively had more than 120,000 likes, the Journal reported. They'd posted content such as a video in which Hyde pooh-poohed the seriousness of the tracking-related text messages in the documents. 

"Several of the pro-Trump pages listed as their owner Finley Enterprises LLC, the same company listed as the owner on Mr. Hyde's campaign page," the Journal said. "The email listed under several of the pages' contact information is rfhyde1@gmail.com, which echoes Hyde for Congress's @rfhyde1 Twitter handle."

An email sent by CNET to rfhyde1@gmail.com didn't immediately receive a response. An attempt to message the HYDE for U.S. Congress Twitter account at @rfhyde1 was unsuccessful.

Facebook is under pressure to deal with disinformation on its site in the runup to the 2020 US presidential election. In late December, the world's largest social network shuttered hundreds of fake accounts, pages and groups that posted content about US political issues. Some of those accounts had used artificial intelligence to generate fake profile pictures.

Facebook is also under fire for its policy that lets politicians lie in ads. The company has said it's not Facebook's role "to referee political debates" and that such ads should be left up on the site so they can be subjected to public scrutiny. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Facebook of caring more about money than truth. On Friday, Biden called Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg "a real problem," after being asked by The New York Times editorial board about an ad that ran on Facebook falsely claiming Biden had blackmailed Ukranian officials.

Originally published Jan. 18.
Updates, Jan. 24:
 On Jan. 23, five days after this story was originally published, we received a reply to the email we sent to rfhyde1@gmail.com. This one-line response said, "Can I still help you?" The email included a sig file that read "Robert F Hyde" and that included links to various pages related to Hyde and his congressional campaign. We replied, again asking for comment on the Journal's story. We've yet to hear back; Jan. 25: This morning we received a response from the rfhyde1@gmail.com account. It described the Journal's story as "very accurate."

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