ISI and the military lodge complaint against fake Facebook accounts -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

ISI and the military lodge complaint against fake Facebook accounts

Pakistan Press Foundation

ISLAMABAD: Fake Facebook accounts used to be a problem faced by teenage girls, but it appears that in Pakistan, they are also becoming a bother for the military and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

The ISI and the military have formally complained to the Ministry of Information Technology (MOIT) and the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) about the existence of fake accounts of their chiefs on the social networking website.

There are a number of accounts on the website, supposedly belonging to the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Raheel Sharif and Director General ISI Lt-Gen Rizwan Akhtar and other senior officers such as Gen Haroon Aslam and Gen Asif Haroon.

The military spokesperson said that with the exception of one account belonging to Director General Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj-Gen Asim Bajwa, the rest are all fake.

PTA spokesman Khurram Mehran confirmed to Dawn that the ISI has launched a formal complaint regarding these accounts.

Some accounts on the website claim to belong to COAS, DG ISI and other senior officers
“Whenever PTA receives any such complaint, it is taken up with the relevant organisation for appropriate action, as per procedure,” he said.

Another PTA official told Dawn that there is an understanding between Facebook management and the information ministry, under which the management on the government’s request removes unwanted content and pages from its website.

He said that the material is hosted by the website which is operated from the United States so the PTA cannot delete a specific link on its own and has to depend on cooperation from Facebook management. However, he said, the government can block an entire website as it did with Youtube.

A source in the military said that following the appointment of Gen Sharif on November 27, 2013, at least 37 accounts were created on Facebook posing to be the army chief.

He added that the matter was taken up by PTA and most of them were subsequently deleted by Facebook management, only to be recreated after a few weeks.

Friend lists of these fake accounts include senior journalists, politicians, businessmen, army personnel and even students.

These friends routinely ‘like’ status changes, praise their leadership style and actions taken in official capacity.

Many get duped by these fake accounts, such as the politician from Rawalpindi who got excited when his friend request was accepted by the account posing to be DG ISI Gen Rizwan Akhtar and wrote “Thank you very much sir,” on the Facebook wall.

A managing director of a hospital in Karachi also wrote a thank-you note on his wall, “Thanks for adding. I am one of the worshippers of Pak Army. Wishing you all the best with good health. Kind regards”.

These accounts update Facebook statuses, put up pictures, ISPR’s press releases, army medals and famous quotes to appear authentic. On August 9, a picture of Gen Sharif with former DG ISI Zaheerul Islam was put up on one of the fake accounts of the army chief.

According to Wahaj Siraj, convener Internet Service Providers (ISP) Association, there is no hard and fast rule for creating a Facebook account which may prevent people from making fake accounts.

The verification mechanism is not effective enough with the website only asking for date of birth or other basic information from a person, he said.

However, fake accounts can be traced by the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. An IP address is a 12 digit number which links the user to the internet. Local operator or service provider can identify the location of a user through this number.

He said that it is the job of the cyber crimes wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to trace such users through their IP address.

He added that the FIA’s scope is limited so most fake accounts go unchecked.