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Facebook: pro-Trump Epoch Times used fake profiles, pushed conspiracies

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  • Facebook and Twitter dismantled thousands of accounts and pages that were part of a global network seeking to push pro-Trump messaging. 
  • NBC News reported that the Facebook accounts had been identified as having ties to the Epoch Times, a pro-Trump conspiracy website. 
  • The group was previously second only to the Trump campaign itself in pro-Trump ad spending with $1.5 million before it was banned in August. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Facebook reportedly removed more than 600 accounts that were tied to a pro-President Donald Trump conspiracy website apparently used to push conspiracies and fake news. 

NBC News reported that the Epoch Times used artificial intelligence to push a variety of political stories through a network run by Vietnamese users pretending to be Americans on the site in addition to 89 pages, 156 groups, and 72 Instagram accounts that amassed over 55 million followers.

The network also appeared on Twitter, where a spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal the site suspended approximately 700 accounts and was undergoing investigations into their origins. 

Facebook’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, told NBC News that the company observed what they believed to be “a US-based media company leveraging foreign actors posing as Americans to push political content.”

“We’ve seen it a lot with state actors in the past,” Gleicher told the outlet. 

The accounts pushed “anti-impeachment” and “pro-Trump” messages with AI-generated faces atop their profiles, which Gleicher said can be detected by the site’s automatic monitoring for fake accounts. 

This is the latest run-in with Facebook the pro-Trump conspiracy website since August, when it was banned from buying ads after it attempted to bypass its review system. Before the ban, the Epoch Times was one of the largest buyers of pro-Trump ads on Facebook, spending more than $1.5 million on pro-Trump Facebook advertising throughout 2019, second only to the Trump campaign itself. 

Stephen Gregory, the Epoch Times’ US editions publisher, said in a statement after the site announced removing the accounts that the media group has no connection to the fake network, and blamed some former employees for the “unjustified ban.” 

The Epoch Times‘ official Facebook pages are still active and “verified” on Facebook, and its main account has nearly 6 million likes. 

The Epoch Times is a non-profit publication that’s tied to a Chinese religious group named Falun Gong, which seeks to undermine the Chinese government and sees Trump as a useful tool. 

The revelation of the network comes as Facebook is under mounting scrutiny for the abundance of fake news and ads that thrive on the site, which is an especially concerning factor ahead of the 2020 US presidential election. 

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