Facebook says it has identified and stopped hundreds of fake accounts on its website. The company said accounts spread Russian propaganda about the invasion of Ukraine throughout Western Europe.
Facebook parent company Meta said the network created more than 60 websites that looked like the websites of real news organizations. The false websites included one similar to The Guardian in Britain and Germany's Der Spiegel. But the false news sites repeated talking points used by Russian officials about Ukraine.
Meta said it stopped the operation before it was able to gain a large audience. However, Facebook said it was the largest and most complex Russian propaganda effort that it has found since the invasion began. More than 1,600 false Facebook accounts were used to spread propaganda to people in Germany, Italy, France, Britain and Ukraine.
“Video: False Staging in Bucha Revealed!” claimed one of the fake news stories. The story blamed Ukraine for the killings of hundreds of Ukrainians in a town occupied by the Russians.
The false social media accounts were used to spread links to the fake news stories and other pro-Russian posts and videos. The network was active throughout the summer.
“On a few occasions, the operation’s content was amplified by the official Facebook pages of Russian embassies in Europe and Asia,” said David Agranovich. He is Meta's director of threat disruption. “I think this is probably the largest and most complex Russian-origin operation that we’ve disrupted since the beginning of the war in Ukraine earlier this year."
The network's activities were first noticed by reporters in Germany. When Meta began its investigation it found that many of the false accounts had already been removed by Facebook's automated systems. Thousands of people were following the network's Facebook pages when they were deactivated earlier this year.
Researchers said they could not directly connect the network to the Russian government. But they noted that the operation was complex, using several languages and carefully created false websites.
Since the war began in February, Russia has used online disinformation and conspiracy theories to weaken international support for Ukraine. Groups linked to the Russian government have accused Ukraine of starting attacks. They have also claimed the war began because of U.S. weapon development and have called Ukrainian refugees criminals and rapists.
A message sent to the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., asking for a response to Meta's recent actions was not immediately returned.
Researchers at Meta also found a smaller network based in China. It also attempted to spread political content in the U.S.
The operation reached a small U.S. audience, with some posts receiving just a single engagement. Many had simple English language mistakes, for example.
Meta said the network is notable because it is the first to target Americans with political messages before this year's midterm elections. The Chinese posts did not support one party but were aimed at issues that cause political division.
One account commented on a Facebook post by Republican Senator Marco Rubio. It asked him to stop gun violence, using the hashtag #RubioChildrenKiller.
Ben Nimmo is the head of threat intelligence for Meta.
"Essentially the message was 'America bad, China good,'" he said. “While it failed, it’s important because it’s a new direction” for Chinese disinformation operations, he said.
I’m Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press and Reuters.
Words in This Story
talking points –n. (usually pl.) particular subjects, ideas or topics for discussion
stage — v. to arrange or organize something to get attention
reveal — v. to show something that was hidden or unknown earlier
amplify — v. to increase the effect of something; to make something louder or more noticeable
disruption — n. to prevent some action from continuing
origin — n. the beginning of a series of events
conspiracy — n. a secret plan by two or more people to do something harmful or illegal
engagement — n. an interaction on social media