Facebook blocks accounts from Russia, Iran over influence campaigns

This illustration file picture shows the US social media Facebook logo displayed on a tablet in Paris on February 17, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 26 March 2019
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Facebook blocks accounts from Russia, Iran over influence campaigns

  • Facebook said it removed 513 pages, groups and accounts tied to Iran

WASHINGTON: Facebook said Tuesday it shut down more than 2,600 fake accounts linked to Iran, Russia, Macedonia and Kosovo and aiming to influence political sentiment in various parts of the world.
It was the latest effort by the leading social network to shut down “inauthentic” accounts on Facebook and Instagram seeking to influence politics in the US and elsewhere.
Facebook said the accounts blocked in the four countries were not necessarily centrally coordinated but “used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy for the company.
“We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people,” Gleicher said in a blog post.
“In each case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.”
Gleicher said Facebook — which has made similar moves in recent months — was making progress in rooting out fake accounts but noted that “it’s an ongoing challenge because the people responsible are determined and well-funded. We constantly have to improve to stay ahead.”
In the latest action, Facebook said it removed 513 pages, groups and accounts tied to Iran and operating in Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Kashmir, Kazakhstan and various areas of the Middle East and North Africa.
Similar to other manipulation campaigns, the users posed as locals and “made-up media entities” and posted news stories about topics including sanctions against Iran, tensions between India and Pakistan, issues in the Middle East and the crisis in Venezuela.
“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review linked these accounts to Iran,” Gleicher said.
Another 1,907 accounts linked to Russia were also blocked. These sought to influence sentiment related to Ukrainian news and politics, the situation in Crimea and corruption.
Facebook said 212 Facebook accounts originating in Macedonia and Kosovo were shut down for misrepresenting themselves as users in Australia, the United States and Britain and sharing content about politics, astrology, celebrities and beauty tips.
Earlier this month, Facebook said it blocked online manipulation efforts in Britain and Romania from users seeking to spread hate speech and divisive comments.
In January, Facebook took down hundreds of accounts from Iran that were part of a vast manipulation campaign operating in more than 20 countries.


Netflix to roll out cheaper mobile-only plan for India

Updated 18 July 2019
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Netflix to roll out cheaper mobile-only plan for India

  • India is among the last big growth markets for the company
  • Netflix faces competition from Amazon’s Prime Video and Walt Disney Co’s Hotstar
Netflix said on Wednesday it would roll out a lower-priced mobile-only plan in India within the next three months to tap into a price-sensitive market at a time the streaming company is losing customers in its home turf.
India is among the last big growth markets for the company, where it faces competition from Amazon.com Inc’s Prime Video and Hotstar, a video streaming platform owned by Walt Disney Co’s India unit.
Netflix lost US streaming customers for the first time in eight years on Wednesday, when it posted quarterly results. It also missed targets for new subscribers overseas.
“India is a mobile-first nation, where many first-time users are experiencing the Internet on their phones. In such a scenario, a mobile-only package makes sense to target new users,” said Tarun Pathak, analyst at Counterpoint Research.
The creator of “Stranger Things” and “The Crown” said in March that it was testing a 250-rupee ($3.63) monthly subscription for mobile devices in India, where data plans are among the cheapest in the world.
The country figures prominently in Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings’ global expansion plans.
“We believe this plan, which will launch in the third quarter, will be an effective way to introduce a larger number of people in India to Netflix and to further expand our business,” the company said in a letter to investors released late on Wednesday.
Netflix currently offers three monthly plans in India, priced between 500 rupees ($7.27) and 800 rupees $11.63).
It has created a niche following in the country by launching local original shows like the thriller “Sacred Games” and dystopian tale “Leila,” which feature popular Bollywood actors.
The second season of “Sacred Games” is set to release in August.
In contrast, Hotstar, which also offers content from AT&T Inc’s HBO and also streams live sports, charges 299 rupees ($4.35) per month. Amazon bundles its video and music streaming services with its Prime membership.
“We’ve been seeing nice steady increases in engagement with our Indian viewers that we think we can keep building on. Growth in that country is a marathon, so we’re in it for the long haul,” Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said.