Facebook tackles harmful authentic accounts with new approach

The social network says it may reduce the reach of content from these accounts or disable them if they're working together to cause harm and evade the rules.

Queenie Wong Former Senior Writer
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.
Expertise I've been writing about social media since 2015 but have previously covered politics, crime and education. I also have a degree in studio art. Credentials
  • 2022 Eddie award for consumer analysis
Queenie Wong
2 min read

Facebook has faced criticism for not doing enough to combat misinformation.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Facebook said Thursday that it's taking a tougher approach against groups of accounts from real users who work together to cause harm.

The social network already has rules against posting harmful content such as hate speech, harassment and harmful COVID-19 misinformation. But sometimes this type of content is spread by a group of tightly organized accounts, not just an individual. Though Facebook also has rules barring dangerous groups such as terrorist organizations, not all groups fall under that policy. 

Facebook's security team routinely takes action against fake accounts that mislead others about their purpose and identity. That team is now going to crack down on groups that attempt to use real accounts to evade enforcement and spread harm. The tech company might reduce the reach of content from these accounts or pull down these authentic accounts, Pages and Groups. 

Often facing criticism that it's not doing enough to combat misinformation and hate speech, Facebook could find that this new effort makes it easier to remove harmful accounts more swiftly. But the company could also encounter more backlash from conservatives or other groups that accuse it of intentionally censoring political speech, allegations the social network denies.

"We recognize this challenge is complex. We need to be careful and deliberate when tackling coordinated efforts by authentic users in order to distinguish between people who organically come together to organize for social change and the types of adversarial networks that can cause digital harm," David Agranovich, director of threat disruption, said at a press conference. 

Agranovich said the company is looking at "technical signals" that would indicate accounts are tightly organizing to spread harm and that this evidence is "deeper" than just the repeated posting of content. 

The social network, for example, removed a group of accounts, Pages and Groups from Facebook and Instagram tied to the Querdenken movement in Germany. The group used authentic accounts to post content including a conspiracy theory regarding the German government's COVID-19 restrictions. It also repeatedly violated the company's community standards.