Facebook and Twitter kill Ukraine influence campaign


Facebook and Twitter have disrupted a network of accounts that were secretly seeking to influence users in the Middle East and Asia with pro-Western views on international politics, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a new report from social media analytics firm Graphica and Stanford University. .

The covert influence operation used accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media giants to promote narratives that support the interests of the United States and its allies while opposing countries, including Russia, China and Iran, according to the report.

Covert influence campaigns have been carried out by Russia and have been repeatedly targeted by social media platforms over the years. This crackdown is the rare instance in which a US-sponsored campaign targeting foreign audiences has been shown to violate corporate rules.

The accounts are being removed at a time when social media giants were trying to suppress disinformation campaigns about the war in Ukraine. But much of this work has focused on combating efforts by Russian authorities to promote propaganda about the war, including false claims about Ukrainian military aggression in the region or blaming Western countries for participating in the war.

Margarita Franklin, a spokeswoman for Facebook’s parent company Meta, confirmed in a statement that the company recently removed a network of accounts originating in the United States for violating the platforms’ rules against coordinated, inauthentic behavior. Franklin said it was the first time the company had removed a foreign network of influence focused on strengthening the United States’ position.

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Twitter declined to comment.

Brigadier General. General Patrick S. Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement that the Department of Defense “will consider and evaluate any information provided by Facebook.”

The accounts shared news articles from US government-funded media, such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and linked to US military-sponsored websites criticizing the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. The campaigns promoted the narrative that Russia was responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians and other atrocities just so it could pursue its “imperialist ambitions,” the report said.

The campaign often mimics the strategies deployed by other countries such as Russia when seeking to influence the public perception of world events. For example, the campaign created fake characters with digitally generated images, posed as independent media outlets and attempted to start hashtag campaigns, according to the report.

Social media analytics firm Graphika and Stanford Internet Observatory Stanford University, which produced the report, noted that clandestine campaigns did not always have much online engagement or traction.

Importantly, the researchers noted, “the data also shows the limitations of using non-native tactics to generate interaction and build influence online.” “The vast majority of posts and tweets we reviewed received no more than a few likes or retweets.”

In the aftermath of the war, social media applications such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube appeared prohibited or strangled Russian state media restricted advertising and enhanced fact-checking during the war. Traffic to Russian government-backed media channels surged on social media in the early days of the invasion, then plummeted after businesses cracked down, according to a March Washington Post report. Analytics.

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Since then, Ukrainian officials have flagged thousands of tweets, YouTube videos and other social media posts as Russian propaganda or anti-Ukrainian hate speech, but many companies have failed to keep up, according to another Report.

Elaine Nakashima contributed.

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