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Facebook removes popular Black Lives Matter page for being fake

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A protester writes on the ground with a chalk in downtown St. Louis last year after a judge found a white former St. Louis police officer, Jason Stockley, not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of a black man, Anthony Lamar Smith, who was fatally shot following a high-speed chase in 2011.

A Facebook page that claimed a connection to the Black Lives Matter movement and had more than twice as many followers as the movement’s official page has been removed for being inauthentic, the company said.

The disclosure came as Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, prepared to be questioned by members of Congress about, among other things, the veracity of material posted on the social media site.

The page, titled “Black Lives Matter,” was followed by nearly 700,000 people and was tied to online fundraising efforts that generated at least $100,000, purportedly to support racial-justice causes in the United States — but was run by a white man in Australia, according to a CNN report.

Facebook, which has been heavily criticized for its handling of users’ personal information and for allowing foreign meddling in the 2016 election, said Monday that the page violated the company’s community standards and was run by a person or people who were not who they claimed to be.

Facebook did not identify those behind the site, but CNN said the administrator of the page was Ian Mackay, an employee of the National Union of Workers in Australia.

The labor union has started its own investigation into the matter and has suspended Mackay and at least one other person, according to SBS News in Australia.

Some of the money raised through the page was funneled to Australian bank accounts, according to CNN, which noted that several online payment firms, including Patreon and Donorbox, had suspended fundraising campaigns linked to the page. Donorbox said it had removed all pages related to the Facebook group in January.

PayPal confirmed that an account linked to the false Black Lives Matter page was no longer active on the payment platform. On Classy, a fundraising site, a campaign linked to the sham page was “found not to be valid” and had been disabled, with the account owners receiving no money, Monica Finch, a company spokeswoman, wrote in an email.

The scheme was yet another blemish for Facebook as Zuckerberg starts the first of two days of testimony before Congress. Legislators are expected to grill him about the company’s role in a series of scandals, including a toxic bloom of fake news during the 2016 election and the harvesting of data from up to 87 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm connected to President Donald Trump’s campaign.

Last week, in the run-up to Zuckerberg’s testimony, Facebook announced new measures requiring those who manage pages with large followings and pages related to political candidates and issues to verify their identities. The requirement is meant to give users more information about such pages, including any previous names they may have had.

“This will make it much harder for people to administer a page using a fake account, which is strictly against our policies,” the company said in a blog post April 6.

Patrisse Cullors, a founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, wrote in a post on Twitter on Monday that she and her supporters had asked Facebook “over and over again” to shut down the fraudulent Black Lives Matter page, but that Facebook had balked at doing so.

“These fake BLM accounts and fake BLM people literally stealing money off Black Death is so stomach churning I can’t even begin to explain,” she wrote. “Glad it’s down now.”

Mackay also ran a Black Lives Matter Facebook group, which functioned like a forum where members had to request access, with nearly 40,000 participants, according to CNN.

Mackay told CNN that buying and selling domain names was a personal hobby but he declined to clarify his role in the Black Lives Matter page.

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