Given the widespread coverage of how social media has been utilized for political manipulation, it was really only a matter of time before we saw the same tactics deployed in corporate conflict.
This week, Facebook has provided an update on the latest set of accounts which it's removed due to 'coordinated inauthentic behavior', and while the first two groups in its listing are along similar lines to its now common reports of the same (efforts originating from Russia and Iran respectively), the third relates to a telecommunications in Myanmar, which was found to be using a group of 13 Facebook accounts and 10 Pages in order to conduct a smear campaign against its corporate rivals.
As explained by Facebook:
"The individuals behind this network used fake accounts to manage Pages posing as independent telecom consumer news hubs. They also purported to be customers of some of the telecom providers in Myanmar posting critical commentary about those companies and their services. The Page admins and account owners typically shared content in English and Burmese about alleged business failures and planned market exit of some service providers in Myanmar, and their alleged fraudulent activity against their customers."
The tactics are indeed very similar to those used by foreign operatives seeking to influence voter action, though they are somewhat less discreet and more pointed in their focus.
Facebook's security team investigated the various posts and ads, and found that the push was coming from two opposing providers in Myanmar.
"Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to two telecom providers - Mytel in Myanmar and Viettel in Vietnam - and Gapit Communications, a PR firm in Vietnam."
In some ways, it makes sense that they would attempt this, and there has always been a level of risk that this might happen. Seeing the ways in which people can be swayed by Facebook content - or at least seemingly moved to action by Facebook posts - there's undoubtedly a range of corporations who have at least considered how they might be able to do the same. And there likely is, unfortunately, ways in which they could do this - though this example underlines that it does come with a level of risk (not to mention it being illegal in most regions).
Facebook's latest set of removals add to the thousands of other Pages and profiles which it's taken action against due to detected coordinated manipulation efforts over the last year. Facebook has significantly ramped up its processes on this front, and with the 2020 US Presidential Election looming, it's going to be under more pressure than ever to keep up that push, and keep voters as safe as possible in the run up to the polls.
Facebook's key aim is to eliminate foreign interference as a factor - The Social Network has previously noted that the impact of such interference is likely minimal, but while it exists in any form, it's difficult to rule out as a guiding force of some kind.
If Facebook can lessen such efforts, it can continue to focus on other areas to improve information flow, and avoid the spread of misleading content.
You can read the specifics of Facebook's latest account removals here.