Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced on Tuesday that it had dismantled a major disinformation network about the war in Ukraine carried out by Russia, as well as targeting Americans by a smaller network, as an important election approached.
META official David Agranovich, during a press conference with journalists, explained that the Russian operation began in May and targeted mainly Germany, as well as France, Italy, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
At the center of the operation were about 60 websites imitating recognized media sites, including the German newspapers Spiegel and Bild, the English daily Guardian or the Italian ANSA.
There, the Russian network published articles critical of Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees, or supporting Russia, before sharing them on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, Twitter or online petition sites.
But investigative journalists are beginning to question the authenticity of these sites, prompting Meta to launch its own investigation.
“This is perhaps the largest and most complex operation of Russian origin that we have interrupted since the beginning of the war in Ukraine,” Mr. Agranovich said.
He pointed out that on the one hand, imitating sites in several languages requires “a significant artistic and linguistic investment.”
On the other hand, articles on social networks were spread mainly through the purchase of ads or fake accounts that were not very successful, often automatically detected by meta-alert systems.
In total, the California company says it has banned 1,633 accounts, 703 Facebook pages and groups, as well as 29 Instagram accounts.
The network was operating out of China and was spotted by Meta, which is much smaller, and has attempted several operations, including two targeting Americans.
Initially, the fake accounts were criticized as conservative and discussed topics such as guns or abortion, or even criticized Joe Biden. The messages were primarily in English, but also sometimes in Chinese or French.
In another process, so-called progressives criticized the Republican Party’s positions on guns or abortion, or targeted Republican policies personally.
Meta said this is the first time that a disinformation operation has focused on both Democrats and Republicans by raising controversial issues in the run-up to the mid-November legislative elections.
The China-based network has also targeted Czech internet users with material critical of their government’s support for Ukraine and its policy toward China, and generally attempted to disseminate information on geopolitical issues critical of the United States.
In total, regarding this second network, Meta has blocked 81 accounts, 8 pages and groups on Facebook as well as 2 accounts on Instagram.
The company said it did not have enough evidence to criminalize certain groups in Russia or China.