By Brad Haynes
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Facebook Inc on Wednesday took down a network of pages and accounts used to spread fake news by members of a right-wing Brazilian activist group, sources told Reuters, as part of a crackdown ahead of an election in October.
Facebook deactivated 196 pages and 87 accounts in Brazil for their part in "a coordinated network that hid behind fake Facebook accounts and misled people about the nature and origin of its content, all for the purpose of sowing division and spreading misinformation," it said in a statement.
The statement did not identify the pages or users involved.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the network was run by senior organizers from the Movimento Brazil Livre (MBL) or "Free Brazil Movement".
The group rose to prominence in 2016 leading protests demanding the impeachment of leftist former President Dilma Rousseff with an aggressive style of online politics that has helped to polarize debate in Brazil.
MBL representatives did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment.
The deactivated pages, which together had more than half a million followers, ranged from sensationalist general news feeds to political fare with an openly conservative slant, carrying names such as Jornalivre and O Diario Nacional, the sources said.
By misrepresenting the shared control of the pages, the MBL organizers were able to spread their coordinated messaging as if it were coming from various independent news outlets, according to the sources.
Facebook has been under heavy pressure to stop the use of fake accounts and other types of deception on its network.
The company last year acknowledged that the platform had been used for what it called "information operations" employing fake accounts and other methods to influence public opinion during the U.S. election in 2016, and pledged to crack down.
U.S. intelligence agencies say the Russian government engaged in a concerted campaign to influence the U.S. presidential election, and cases of political groups using social media in deceptive ways have since emerged around the world.
There was no indication of foreign involvement in the MBL network taken down on Wednesday, the sources said.
Facebook said it took down the network in Brazil after a "rigorous investigation" because the profiles involved were false or misleading, violating its authenticity policies.
The social network has a separate set of tools to discourage the distribution of fake news with help from outside fact checkers.
(Reporting by Brad Haynes; additional reporting by Lais Martins; editing by Jason Neely)