In September of 2020, the Stanford Internet Observatory, a partner of Social Links, released a paper on the topic of identifying a network aimed at combatting oppositional elements in Facebook and Instagram. The study was based on a Facebook campaign to detect and remove inappropriate content from a popular social network. The subsequent investigation by the Stanford Internet Observatory was made using technology and methodologies developed by Social Links.  

What was the investigation about?

The investigation was into a network of Pakistan-based Facebook and Instagram accounts suspended for coordinated inauthentic behavior. The detailed investigation paper reveals mass reporting to silence critics of Islam and Pakistan. The network encouraged users to mass-report accounts 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 and Indian military fan Pages and Groups of unclear purpose. Facebook reported that 70,000 accounts followed at least one of the Pages, and 1.1 million users belonged to the Groups.

How did Facebook suspend suspicious behavior?

On August 31, 2020, Facebook suspended 103 Pages, 78 Groups, 453 Facebook accounts, and 107 Instagram accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior. The findings were made as part of Facebook's Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior (CIB) campaign to protect the social network's platforms from inauthentic behavior.

Facebook shared a portion of this report with the Stanford Internet Observatory. In the investigation, SIO experts discovered the network engaged in mass reporting: the coordinated reporting of accounts ostensibly for violating a platform's terms of service. Many of the groups were private; therefore, SIO investigators could not collect data using an analytics platform owned by Facebook.

What tools did The Stanford Internet Observatory use in their investigation?

SIO experts investigated the suspended pages and groups transferred by Facebook with multiple transformations throughout the individuals' interaction on Facebook and Instagram and their relationships with connected accounts. Dozens of the personal profiles were in numerous Facebook groups that appeared to be thematically clustered. Using Social Links technology and methodologies, SIO identified the relationship between groups, pages, and individuals’ profiles.

The relationship between some of the Groups (green), Pages (yellow), and profiles (blue) in the network. This figure was made with Maltego and Social Links.

Read the full SIO report documenting a Pakistan-based Facebook and Instagram activity network to get more details about tools applied in this investigation.

"Reporting for Duty: How A Network of Pakistan-based Accounts Leveraged Mass Reporting to Silence Critics."

About The Stanford Internet Observatory

The Stanford Internet Observatory is a cross-disciplinary program of research, teaching, and policy engagement to study abuse in current information technologies, focusing on social media.