LONDON, RAW – Facebook has removed a network of accounts linked to an anti-coronavirus restrictions movement in Germany as it announced a new crackdown on coordinated campaigns of real users that it says cause harm on and off its platforms.

Facebook has been working for several months to use tactics against “coordinated social harm,” its head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher said in a call with reporters on Thursday.

He said these campaigns typically involve tightly-organised networks of real users who systematically violate its policies to cause harm, including away from Facebook, but do not violate the company’s rules on influence operations using fake accounts or against dangerous organisations.

The changes could have major significance for how the world’s largest social media network handles organised political and social movements on its sites.

In a recent report on influence operations, the company said a key trend it saw was the blurring between authentic public debate and manipulation by foreign and domestic campaigns.

Querdenken, or “Lateral Thinking”, is a movement of protesters who have railed against coronavirus restrictions in Germany.

Facebook accused the network operated by individuals associated with Querdenken of using authentic and duplicate accounts to post and amplify harmful health misinformation, hate speech and incite violence across multiple internet services.

Facebook also said the movement had been linked to off-platform physical violence and pandemic-related social harms.

The Querdenken movement did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Facebook, which has been under scrutiny over its handling of anti-vaccine and COVID-19 misinformation which has proliferated online during the pandemic, said it was not banning all Querdenken content from its platforms.

It said it had blocked its domains from being shared and had taken down almost 150 Facebook and Instagram accounts, groups and pages.