JAKARTA (Reuters) – Facebook Inc has removed hundreds of Indonesian accounts, pages and groups from its social network that the company has found were linked to an online group accused of spreading hate speech and fake news.
Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
Indonesian police uncovered the existence of the group, called Saracen, in 2016 and arrested three of its members on suspicion of being part of a syndicate being paid to spread incendiary material online through social media.
“These accounts and pages were actively working to conceal what they were doing and were linked to the Saracen Group, an online syndicate in Indonesia,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of Cybersecurity Policy, said on Friday.
Gleicher said the pages and accounts deleted had reached 170,000 people on Facebook and more than 65,000 on Instagram.
The take-down was due to “coordinated deceptive behavior … not due to the content they had shared”, he said.
Indonesia’s police cyber crime unit has previously told Reuters that Saracen was posting material involving religious and ethnic issues, as well as fake news and posts that defamed government officials.
Indonesian police investigators said they had uncovered money transfers of up to $5,000 to pay those spreading the material, but the suspects arrested have never confirmed the group’s existence.
Their lawyers were not immediately reachable for comment.
Indonesia has a ethnically diverse population of 260 million people, with a big majority of Muslims but with significant religious minorities, and ensuring unity across the archipelago has been a priority of governments.
The country is currently in the run-up to a presidential election set to take place in April.
Reporting by Fanny Potkin; Editing by Ed Davies and Himani Sarkar