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Belarusian KGB set up fake social media accounts to inflame migrant crisis, Meta says

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FILE PHOTO: Woman holds smartphone with Facebook logo in front of Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta in this illustration picture
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By Matthias Williams

KYIV (Reuters) - Facebook's parent company Meta has linked the Belarusian KGB to the setting up of dozens of fake social media accounts of people posing as journalists and activists to stir up a migrant crisis on the border of Belarus and Poland.

A Meta report on Wednesday said it had removed 41 Facebook accounts, five Facebook Groups and four Instagram accounts for violating its policy on "coordinated inauthentic behaviour".

The fake profiles were used to criticise the behaviour of the Polish authorities, including spreading allegations that Polish border guards were using force and intimidation against migrants, it said.

"These fictitious personas posted criticism of Poland in English, Polish, and Kurdish, including pictures and videos about Polish border guards allegedly violating migrants' rights, and compared Poland's treatment of migrants against other countries'," the report said.

"Although the people behind it attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to the Belarusian KGB," it said.

The Belarusian KGB could not be reached for comment.

Facebook has been under global pressure from regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat abuses on its services. It told Reuters in September that it was being more aggressive in shutting down coordinated groups of real-user accounts engaging in certain harmful activities on its platform, including attempts to influence elections in countries.

European Union countries have accused Belarus of creating a migrant crisis on the bloc's eastern borders by encouraging thousands from the Middle East and Africa to try to cross into Poland and Lithuania, in revenge for Western sanctions on Minsk.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko denies doing so and pinned the blame for the crisis on the EU.

Rights groups say at least 13 people have died as migrants have camped in freezing conditions at the border. The three EU countries that border Belarus have defended their approach of pushing migrants back without individually assessing their cases or granting them a realistic chance to claim asylum as guaranteed under international humanitarian law.

The Meta report said the company separately had removed 31 Facebook accounts, four Groups and four Instagram accounts that were believed to have originated in Poland and targeted an audience in Belarus and Iraq.

The report did not link the accounts to the Polish state but said they were intended to discourage migrants from trying to get into the EU.

"These fake personas claimed to be sharing their own negative experiences of trying to get from Belarus to Poland and posted about migrants' difficult lives in Europe," it said. "They also posted about Poland's strict anti-migrant policies and anti-migrant neo-Nazi activity in Poland."

(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Bernadette Baum)