Blog September 1, 2020

Reporting for Duty

An investigation into a network of Pakistan-based Facebook and Instagram accounts suspended for coordinated inauthentic behavior reveals mass reporting to silence critics of Islam and Pakistan.
graphic of facebook page on computer

Download Report: "Reporting for Duty: How A Network of Pakistan-Based Accounts Leveraged Mass Reporting to Silence Critics"
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On August 31, 2020, Facebook suspended 103 Pages, 78 Groups, 453 Facebook accounts, and 107 Instagram accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior. As it notes in its takedown report, Facebook attributed this network to individuals in Pakistan. Facebook shared a portion of this network with the Stanford Internet Observatory on August 28. In our investigation, we find that the network engaged in mass reporting: the coordinated reporting of accounts ostensibly for violating a platform’s terms of service. The network encouraged users to mass-report accounts that were critical of Islam and the Pakistani government, and in some cases accounts that were part of the Ahmadi religious community. The network also had messaging praising the Pakistani military, along with some Indian military fan Pages and Groups of unclear purpose. The network appears to have primarily targeted Pakistanis and Indians; posts were in Urdu, Hindi, English, and Punjabi. Facebook reports that 70,000 accounts followed at least one of the Pages and 1.1 million users belonged to the Groups.

screenshot of facebook posts
Posts from the Page پاکستان کے رکھوالے (“Guardians of Pakistan”). This is one of the Pages where users were asked to report accounts. The images show the administrators boasting of supposed successes. We cannot verify, however, whether accounts were suspended due to the activity of this network or for other reasons.

Key takeaways:

  • Since May 2020 the suspended network coordinated mass reporting of Facebook and Instagram accounts that were perceived to be critical of Islam, critical of the Pakistani government and military, or linked to the Ahmadi religious minority. Accounts shared links that brought users directly to Facebook’s site to report a specific account or account photo. The network claimed over 200 successes, but we are unable to confirm whether these accounts were taken down due to reporting. Some accounts, such as those that had intentionally insulting fake names, were clearly in violation of Facebook's identity policies. 

  • The network used “Auto Reporter,” a Chrome extension to automate reporting. The creator of the extension said explicitly on Facebook that he created the product for “Accounts like anti-Islamic, anti-Pakistani or even groups and pages which is a great threat on social media.” The network and related users provided tutorials to create fake accounts for reporting and to quickly open many tabs to expedite reporting. 

Screenshot of Chrome Extension Store
The Auto Reporter Chrome extension that facilitated mass reporting.
  • Many Pages and Groups posted Pakistani nationalist content, praising the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency) and ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Posts also criticized India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, often mocking Modi’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The network included several Indian Army fan Pages and Groups, which had primarily positive messaging about the Indian military and government. We are unclear what the objective of these entities was.

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