SAN FRANCISCO -- Facebook said Tuesday it derailed a network of fake accounts out of China that had recently taken aim at influencing politics in the Philippines and the U.S.
The takedown came as part of the social networks fight against "coordinated inauthentic behavior" and marked the first time Facebook had seen such a campaign based in China targeting US politics, according to head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher.
Facebook did not connect the campaign to the Chinese government, saying its investigation found links to individuals in the Fujian province of China. In the takedown, Facebook removed 155 accounts, 11 Pages, 9 Groups and 6 Instagram accounts for violating its policy against foreign interference in deceptive schemes.
The campaign out of China focused primarily on the Philippines and South East Asia more broadly, and just a bit on the US, according to Gleicher.
Posts particularly commented about naval activity in the South China Sea, including US Navy ships, Facebook said.
Gleicher said Facebook was "attributing" the network that targeted the Philippines "to the Philippine military and Philippine police." He added, "In particular, we found links behind this network that connected to both these organizations and individuals associated with these organizations."
The account holders would have had to use techniques to circumvent China's "Great Firewall," which bans the US social network. Gleicher said the people running the pages posed as locals in places they targeted, and tried to hide their locations using virtual private network software.
The network posted in South East Asia about Beijing's interest in the South China Sea; Hong Kong, and in support of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Facebook said.
The network had evidently been active since at least 2018, only recently starting to post content both in for and against U.S. President Donal Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, according to Gleicher.
"The operation had been running a while aimed at Southeast Asia; its aim at the US seemed nascent and ineffective," Gleicher said during a briefing with journalists.
"These actors had hardly posted anything; it looked like audience building."
About 133,000 people followed one or more of the campaigns Facebook pages, and around 61,000 people had joined one or more of its online Groups, according to the California-based social network.
The campaign had only spent about $60 on ads at Facebook, paid for in Chinese yuan, Gleicher said.