Nearly three years ago, Facebook’s propaganda hunters uncovered a vast social media influence operation that used hundreds of fake accounts to praise the Indian army’s crackdown in the restive border region of Kashmir and accuse Kashmiri journalists of separatism and sedition.
What they found next was explosive: The network was operated by the Indian army’s Chinar Corps, a storied unit garrisoned in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, the heart of Indian Kashmir and one of the most militarized regions in the world.
But when the U.S.-based supervisor of Facebook’s Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior (CIB) unit told colleagues in India that the unit wanted to delete the network’s pages, executives in the New Delhi office pushed back. They warned against antagonizing the government of a sovereign nation over actions in territory it controls. They said they needed to consult local lawyers. They worried they could be imprisoned for treason.
Those objections staved off action for a full year while the Indian army unit continued to spread disinformation that put Kashmiri journalists in danger. The deadlock was resolved only when top Facebook executives intervened and ordered the fake accounts deleted.
“It was open-and-shut” that the Chinar Corps had violated Facebook’s rules against using fictional personas to surreptitiously promote a narrative, said an employee who worked on the Kashmir project. “That was the moment that almost broke CIB and almost made a bunch of us quit.” [Continue reading…]