Facebook has shut down several fake news sites with apparent links to the Bangladeshi government, the social media giant said Thursday, days before the country goes to the polls in a bitterly contested election.
The government of Sheikh Hasina, who is seeking a record fourth term in office, has been accused by civil society groups of drifting towards authoritarianism, silencing dissent and the press by using an onerous digital-security law.
At least six people have been killed in election campaign clashes between Hasina's ruling Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), whose incarcerated veteran leader Khaleda Zia was last month handed another stiff jail term.
Facebook said it had suspended nine pages and six accounts it had linked to "individuals associated with the Bangladesh government" and which posted anti-opposition content while masquerading as independent news sources.
"This kind of behaviour is not allowed on Facebook under our misrepresentation policy because we don’t want people or organisations creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing," the company said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from the government, but the country's election commission announced Wednesday it set up a body to monitor and check "rumours and propaganda" in social media over the December 30 polls, according to the state run BSS news agency.
Earlier this month the government blocked more than 50 websites and news portals for what it said were security reasons, prompting an outcry from rights advocates.
Facebook has been working to repair its battered reputation, improving the speed with which hate speech is taken down from the platform.
The Facebook decision came only a day after it removed hundreds of pages and accounts in neighbouring Myanmar with hidden links to the military, as the company scrambles to respond to criticism over its failure to curb hate speech and misinformation.
An violent army crackdown last year drove more than 720,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar into Bangladesh, while a torrent of dehumanising material about the stateless group spread on the site.
An independent report commissioned by Facebook concluded last month that the company should have done more to prevent the platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence against the Rohingya.