Bolivia hires U.S. lobbying firm accused of fake news by Facebook

SANTIAGO, Sept 3- Bolivia’s interim presidency said on Thursday it had hired a Washington- based lobbying firm that Facebook Inc accuses of launching fake news campaigns to skew democratic debate. Bolivia’s interim government, which assumed power in a vacuum after the resignation of longtime leftist leader Evo Morales late last year, said it hired CLS…

By Aislinn Laing

SANTIAGO, Sept 3 (Reuters) – Bolivia’s interim presidencysaid on Thursday it had hired a Washington-based lobbying firmthat Facebook Inc accuses of launching fake newscampaigns to skew democratic debate.

Bolivia’s interim government, which assumed power in avacuum after the resignation of longtime leftist leader EvoMorales late last year, said it hired CLS Strategies in Decemberin an effort to shore up its international support.

In a statement, the government said CLS’ mandate was to”carry out lobbying in search of backing for Bolivian democracyafter fraudulent elections and in support of the holding of newpresidential polls.”

CLS introduced Bolivian officials to members of the U.S.executive branch and legislature, the government said, addingthat it had not asked CLS to conduct any other service oractivity.

Facebook said in a report on Tuesday that it had removedfake social media accounts linked to CLS that had posted contentin support of caretaker Bolivia’s President Jeanine Anez and thepolitical opposition to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The company had also posted negative content about the partyof President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico, Facebooksaid.

In the same report, Facebook said it has also dismantled aRussian influence operation posing as an independent news outletto target left-wing voters in the United States andBritain.

Anez, a conservative former senator, assumed the presidencyin Bolivia in November after Morales stepped down when aninternational audit of elections he won claimed to have foundevidence of fraud.

She later threw her hat into the ring for Bolivia’spresidential elections due to take place in October.

Facebook said CLS violated its policy against foreigninterference – which it defines as “coordinated inauthenticbehavior on behalf of a foreign entity” – by using fake Facebookand Instagram profiles to amplify content it created includingmocked-up local news, civic organizations and politicalsupporters’ sites.

The U.S. social media giant said the fake accounts postedabout news and current events, including politics and politicalfigures, elections and political crises in Venezuela, Mexico andBolivia.

It removed a total of 55 fake Facebook accounts, 42 pagesand 36 Instagram accounts, it added.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, saidin a tweet that CLS’ activity “continues a trend we have seen ofPR firms around the world making a business out of this type ofdeception.”

“If we see networks like this, we will continue to removethem and attribute them publicly,” he added.

CLS Strategies did not respond to a Reuters request forcomment.

Morales, who ran Bolivia for 14 years before leaving thecountry, has accused Anez and others of leading a U.S.-backedcoup against him.

He said in a tweet on Wednesday that the Facebook reportprovided evidence of a “dirty war” against MAS – his party.”Today, Facebook took a step by eliminating a network hired bythe de facto government to spread its lies,” he said.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to arequest for comment.(Reporting by Aislinn Laing, additional reporting by HumeyraPamuk in WashingtonEditing by Daniel Flynn and Tom Brown)

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