In a previous story, Faqcheck Lab highlighted a selection of inauthentic social media pages masquerading as accounts under Berita Harian Online, a mainstream news organisation in Malaysia.
This investigation examined more than 40 such accounts across various online platforms, and found some of them designed to create confusion for financial gain.
We looked at false accounts with the following indicators:
Pages that use a version of the BH Online logo;
Pages with the words “Berita Harian” in their accounts names and social media handles;
Pages with the misspelt name Berita “Hairan”. These pages often carry a logo that looks similar to an older version of the BH Online logo.
As reported in a previous story, the popularity of BH Online makes it attractive for disinformation actors to misuse its logo to attract clicks for ulterior motives.
From our findings, these fake accounts were created recently as 2020 and go as far back as 2009.
Harris Zainul, an analyst working on misinformation at the Institute of Strategic International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, explained that one of the key motivations is to “create a semblance of credibility when people click on their pages”.
To add to the credibility, one page we analysed even lifted BH Online’s “About” section.
Others shared genuine stories lifted directly from BH Online’s website and social media pages. They sometimes write their own headline in the post.
To appear legitimate, one Berita “Hairan” page even provided an office location. FCL followed the coordinates provided to verify it but was led to the open air field at Dataran Petaling Jaya.
Another means of generating attention is through misleading social media handles that appear similar to official BH Online accounts.
Many fake pages craft a similar username, which makes it easy for people to tag them by mistake when posting on social media.
“You could accidentally tag these accounts because of the mentions, and it could get people to misclick and tag the wrong account,” said Harris, adding that this helps drive traffic to the fake pages.
FCL found one inauthentic page that has done so successfully. Using the @BeritaHarianMetroOnline handle, it has more than 340,000 followers on its Facebook page. Harian Metro and Berita Harian belong under the same media group.
The page was created on 28 June 2013 and run by three Malaysia-registered Facebook users.
Another account duplicated this strategy on Instagram as well and was mistakenly tagged multiple times.
The false accounts extend to the private messaging app Telegram, where we uncovered a number of BH Online channels.
One active channel with nearly 4,000 subscribers shared genuine BH Online content with its subscribers on a daily basis, often soon after the original publication.
But asked about the Telegram channels, BH Online executive editor of content and digital, Thillinadan Muniandy said: “We don’t have any. I’ve checked, and it’s not ours.”
This raises questions about the motivations behind the Telegram channels, which remain inconclusive.
MONEY AND MISCHIEF
But motivation indicators elsewhere may be more obvious.
“If they (disinformation actors) create authentic looking accounts, and people click through on them, they can generate income from that,” Harris explained. “It really depends on the specific imposter account itself. Some include links to websites and online advertisements, while some of them are financially motivated.”
We uncovered a clear case of a false BH Online Facebook page doing exactly that.
The page produced links that, when clicked on, took readers to a website advertising a game application that promised fast money.
Similarly, the earlier inauthentic page with more than 340,000 followers shared suggestive and gory images. Some of the posts funnelled users to a Youtube channel with advertisements. This means the account generated ad revenue from each view.
Harris warned of the dangers of such fake accounts, and the malware threat they pose. “It really ties back to the motivation of the imposter accounts,” he said. “The URLs can show links to BH Online, but may be downloading dangerous malware instead.”
FCL found a parody Facebook page with the misspelt Berita Hairan logo that posted links to a forex page. Google’s Chrome browser red-flagged the links with a warning that “attackers might be trying to steal your information from… (for example, passwords, messages, or credit cards)”.
This Facebook account was one of a number of similar pages created, each using a similar URL that ended with a different number.
This section of the URL indicates the username of a Facebook page. The similarity here suggests the administrator for these accounts could be linked. All three accounts were inactive at the time of our check.
Misinformation analyst Harris Zainul summarised three core motivations for these inauthentic pages. They are:
Pages that divert traffic to their website benefit financially through advertisements or downloads.
Pages that mislead the public by pushing a narrative.
Parody and satire accounts that poke fun at others and use the name of a credible organisation to draw attention to their content.
Highlighting these pages creates awareness of their methods and motivations. One such page masquerading as BH Online has gone offline following our recent report. We plan to report other inauthentic and risky pages from our findings to social media companies and request for their removal.
For transparency and research purposes, we welcome requests to view our full database, which comes with notes on each dubious account. But we will not be publishing them to avoid amplifying their content.
University of Nottingham Malaysia: Noor Alia Abrar Bestari Abrar, Muhammad Farhan Shahmi Abdullah, Joshua Ng and Gayathry Venkiteswaran
Xiamen University Malaysia: Siew Tong En
Universiti Putra Malaysia: Nur Farah Ain Raduan and Nur Atiqah Abdul Hamid