Facebook pulls down fake accounts ahead of Ethiopia's general election

The accounts, which posted about news and politics, were critical of the US sanctions imposed on Ethiopia.

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Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
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Facebook said Wednesday it pulled down fake accounts, pages and groups that posted about news and politics ahead of the Ethiopian general election.

The social network said it took down 65 Facebook accounts, 52 pages, 27 groups and 32 Instagram accounts for violating its rules against misleading others about their purpose and identity.

"Given the upcoming election and the ongoing tensions in Ethiopia, our teams moved as quickly as possible to complete the investigation and disrupt this operation," said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of security policy in a press conference.

The social network has faced criticism in the past for not doing enough to combat fake accounts during elections in other countries, including in the US. Facebook has outlined a number of steps it's taking to prepare for the Ethiopia election, including ways the social network is combating misinformation and hate speech.

Ethiopia is scheduled to hold its general elections on June 21 to elect members of the House of Peoples' Representatives. A brutal war also erupted in the Tigray region of Ethiopia in 2020, prompting the US in May to restrict visas for government and military officials of Ethiopia and Eritrea amid allegations of human rights violations. Pro-government demonstrators in Ethiopia criticized the US sanctions.

Gleicher said the fake accounts were critical of the US sanctions, but did not directly focused on the conflict in Tigray.

The fake accounts mainly posted in Amharic about topics including the Prosperity Party and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. They also criticized opposition politicians and groups in Ethiopia, including the Oromo Liberation Front, Ethiopian Democratic Party, and the Tigray People's Liberation Front. 

Facebook linked the fake accounts to individuals associated with the Information Network Security Agency in Ethiopia. The agency didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gleicher said the fake accounts posted the same content across multiple pages and groups to grow their following. Roughly 1.1 million accounts followed one or more of the Facebook pages. About 766,000 accounts joined one or more of the groups and around 1,700 people followed one or more of the Instagram accounts.