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Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook is purging 559 pages and 251 accounts that have demonstrated spammy behavior that violate its rules, a spokesperson tells Axios. Many of the accounts removed are from hyper-partisan political pages and accounts.

Why it matters: Spam content often reflects society's emotions and obsessions — like diet pill scams and celebrity gossip. Facebook's finding an increase in spam activity around political content is a sign of how radicalized U.S. users have become around political extremes.

Details: Facebook says the takedowns may have impacted more right-leaning hyper-partisan Pages, but many left-leaning hyper-partisan pages were removed, too.

  • However, the company says it didn't take political leanings into account when evaluating which accounts and pages violated its standards, because the content itself wasn't the problem.
  • Rather, it was the spammy tactics used to spread the content (like pushing the same stories across massive numbers of groups at once) that violate Facebook's spam policies, because they annoy users. 

Facebook says today's version of spam on its platform is used to drive people to ad farm websites, which violates Facebook's policies.

  • According to Facebook, these spammers artificially inflate engagement in the News Feed by creating many posts in different Facebook groups at the same time to build traffic to ad farms quickly.
  • Others use fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names to post a lot of content across a network of groups and pages to drive traffic to their websites, where they can make money from ads.

Between the lines: One of the problems with this spammy behavior, Facebook says, is that these actors often use news stories or opinions that are hard to distinguish from legitimate political debate. This is why the company tries to identify spam by evaluating the behavior used to share the content, not the actual content.

Be smart: This type of spammy behavior (using hyper-political content to drive engagement and make ad money) has been around for some time.

  • For example, a study from social media analytics NewsWhip found last year that there’s a high proportion of emoji "reactions" to "likes" for hyper-partisan posts.
  • Hyper-partisan publishers, they found, "are highly adept at provoking their followers into selecting a strong emotion rather than just a like," which helps to elevate their content in Facebook's News Feed, driving more clicks and ad money.

What's next? Expect some people to allege bias by Facebook after the removal of their accounts.

  • It's possible some actors will use this purge as an opportunity to allege that Facebook is being biased against certain political viewpoints, and in particular conservative viewpoints.
  • In reality, no solid evidence has ever supported the claim that Facebook discriminates against particular political viewpoints, despite Congressional hearings and investigations by advocacy groups into the claim.

Go deeper

9 hours ago - Health

Food banks feel the strain without holiday volunteers

People wait in line at Food Bank Community Kitchen on Nov. 25 in New York City. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Food Bank For New York City

America's food banks are sounding the alarm during this unprecedented holiday season.

The big picture: Soup kitchens and charities, usually brimming with holiday volunteers, are getting far less help.

11 hours ago - Health

AstraZeneca CEO: "We need to do an additional study" on COVID vaccine

Photo: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said on Thursday the company is likely to start a new global trial to measure how effective its coronavirus vaccine is, Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: Following Phase 3 trials, Oxford and AstraZeneca said their vaccine was 90% effective in people who got a half dose followed by a full dose, and 62% effective in people who got two full doses.

Updated 13 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving.
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions.
  3. World: Expert says COVID vaccine likely won't be available in Africa until Q2 of 2021 — Europeans extend lockdowns.
  4. Economy: The winners and losers of the COVID holiday season.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.