In its latest Quarterly Adversarial Threat Report, Meta – the company behind Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp – has accused the Polis Diraja Malaysia or PDRM (Royal Malaysian Police) of running an online troll farm with hundreds of accounts that were used to target the general population and “manipulate public debate for a strategic goal”.
The lengthy report highlighted the company’s efforts to uncover risks and policy violations across its subsidiary platforms in the hopes of mitigating global cyber threats. If you want, you can read the lengthy 36-page report here.
As it so happened, Malaysia was named among the many countries facing online threats, with the online troll farm supposedly run by the PDRM getting highlighted in a section dealing with coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB).
“We removed 596 Facebook accounts, 180 Pages, 11 Groups, and 72 Instagram accounts for violating our policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior,” Meta said in the report. “This network originated in Malaysia and targeted domestic audiences in that country.”
The social media giant also claimed that these accounts had managed to amass over 427,000 accounts as followers on one or more Facebook Pages, with 4,000 more joining such Facebook groups, and 15,000 becoming followers on some of these Instagram accounts.
The report even stated that these accounts belonging to the troll farm had spent around US$6,000 for advertising on both Facebook and Instagram, with most of it paid for primarily in Malaysian Ringgit.
While it’s no surprise that there exists a large amount of these troll accounts – or what Malaysians like to call cybertroopers or “cytros”, many will no doubt be more than a little concerned about Meta’s accusation that they were mostly run by the Malaysian police force.
In the report, the company said that “although the people behind it (the troll farm) attempted to conceal their identity and coordination, our investigation found likes to the Royal Malaysia Police”, while a small portion was suspected to have originated in China.
IMAGE: Malay Mail
It was also noted that this was all a coordinated effort to corrupt and manipulate public discourse, and that such operators had no doubt done the same on other social media sites such as TikTok and Twitter (in addition to Facebook and Instagram).
Meta alleged that these accounts had posted memes in Malay to show support for the current ruling coalition, and claimed corruption among the government’s critics. The modus operandi of this troll network, according to Meta, was that that it would “manage Pages, including those posing as independent news entities”, and “promote the police while criticizing the opposition”.
“Typically, their posting activity accelerated during weekdays, taking breaks for lunch,” detailed the report. “Their fake accounts were fairly under-developed and some of them used stolen profile pictures. Some of them were detected and disabled by our automated systems.”
As of right now, there has been no response to these allegations contained in the report by the PDRM, although it should only be a matter of time before they do.
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Cover image sourced from CNBC and New Straits Times.
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