In a series of joint reports with Qurium, DFRLab, and the EU Disinfo Lab, Meta announced on Tuesday that it suspended Facebook and Instagram accounts that were part of a “large network that originated in Russia.”
Meta’s security team said this network of accounts began posting in May this year and targeted audiences primarily in Germany but also countries such as France, Italy, Ukraine, and the UK.
The accounts primarily posted links from over 60 websites carefully crafted to impersonate legitimate news organizations in Europe, including Der Spiegel, The Guardian, Bild, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Tagesspiegel, ANSA, and others.
These websites used typosquatted domains as close as possible to the original news site URLs in order to fool their readers and themes identical to the real sites. The sites would also host “articles that criticized Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees, supported Russia and argued that Western sanctions on Russia would backfire.”
The fake accounts would then promote these propaganda articles on a variety of social networks—not just Meta properties—such as Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, Twitter, petitions websites like Change.org and Avaaz, and even the LiveJournal blogging platform.
Meta said that once its team blocked an initial wave of sites, the Russian propaganda network created new ones.
Furthermore, when some of these articles needed more visibility, the Facebook Pages of Russian embassies in Europe and Asia gladly lent a hand and shared it with their audiences, which is honestly no surprise at this point.
The fact that different disinformation labs spotted and documented this Russian network together with Facebook also stands testament to the obvious propaganda purpose of this operation and the low quality of their work. Here, Qurium has an insightful summary:
- Judging by how the 50+ fake news sites have been set up (hosting, CDN, SSL certificates, domain registrar), they are likely to be operated by one single actor.
- The use of the capabilities of tracking software Keitaro suggests that the operatives need to report on its success back to its supervisor or client.
- Although disinformation is being spread in no less than seven languages, the actor does not seem to possess these language skills but is using automatic translation services to localize the content.
- The actor works with staff in at least three time zones (UTC, GMT+2, GMT+8), corresponding to western Europe and the Irkutsk region in Russia.
But alas, disinformation efforts don’t need to be carefully crafted. As it has already been proven, disinformation just needs to exist, and people will do the rest.
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