Social media giant Facebook said Thursday that it has banned an Israeli company that ran an influence campaign aimed at disrupting elections in various countries and has canceled dozens of accounts engaged in spreading disinformation.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, told reporters that the tech giant had purged 65 Israeli accounts, 161 pages, dozens of groups and four Instagram accounts. Many were linked to the Archimedes Group, a Tel Aviv-based political consulting and lobbying firm that boasts of its social media skills and ability to “change reality.”
Gleicher said Facebook could not speculate about Archimedes’ motives, which “may be commercial or political.”
Archimedes was involved in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” targeting users in countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, Gleicher said.
Some accounts posed as certain political candidates, smearing opponents and presenting as local news organizations peddling supposedly leaked information.
“The people behind this network used groups of fake accounts to run pages, disseminate content and to act to artificially increase engagement and make the content more popular than it was,” he added.
Those accounts and pages identified themselves as local, including making themselves look like local news organizations that published supposedly leaked information about local politicians. The pages and fake accounts would frequently post about political news, with topics like elections in the various countries, candidates’ views, and criticism of candidates.
“The individuals behind this network attempted to conceal their identities – and our internal team confirmed that they were linked to a company called the Archemides Group,” said Gleicher.
The countries targeted in Africa included Nigeria, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia, he said.
In a blog post, Facebook provides examples of some of the posts and activity promoted by the network.
Gleicher said Archimedes had spent some $800,000 on fake ads and that its deceptive activity dated back to 2012. He said Facebook has banned Archimedes from the platform and is “blocking them from coming back.”
He added that Facebook has shared information about the activities of Archimedes with industry partners and policy makers.
Facebook has come under pressure to more aggressively and transparently tackle misinformation aimed at sowing division and confusion around elections, since the revelation that Russia used Facebook to try to sway the 2016 US presidential election.
About 2.8 million accounts followed one or more of the fake pages, the Facebook blog said, and about 5,500 accounts joined at least one of the groups. Some 920 people followed one or more of the Instagram accounts in question.
On its website, Archimedes presents itself as a consulting firm involved in campaigns for presidential elections.
Little information is available beyond its slogan, which is “winning campaigns worldwide,” and a vague blurb about the group’s “mass social media management” software, which it said enabled the operation of an “unlimited” number of online accounts.
The site, featuring a montage of stock photos from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, boasts of its “own unique field within the social media realm” and its efforts to “take every advantage available in order to change reality according to our client’s wishes.”
A message seeking comment from the company was not immediately returned.
Archimedes’ chief executive is Elinadav Heymann, according to Swiss negotiations consultancy Negotiations (CH) where he is listed as one of the group’s consultants.
A biography posted to the company’s website describes him as the former director of the Brussels-based European Friends of Israel lobbying group, a former political adviser in Israel’s parliament and an ex-intelligence agent for the Israeli Air Force.