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Facebook disrupts Chinese, Russian disinformation campaigns

Parent company Meta said it took down or otherwise disrupted far-reaching, anti-Western campaigns online

Facebook parent Meta said it uncovered disinformation campaigns online that originated in China and Russia. Photo by Pixelkult/<a href="https://pixabay.com/photos/media-social-media-apps-998990/">Pixabay</a>
Facebook parent Meta said it uncovered disinformation campaigns online that originated in China and Russia. Photo by Pixelkult/Pixabay

Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Meta, the parent company of Facebook, said Tuesday it had disrupted covert actions tied to Russian and Chinese efforts to maliciously influence Western news flows and elections.

Meta said it took down a network originating in Russia that primarily targeted the German news audience, but had extensions into France, Italy, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

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"The operation began in May of this year and centered around a sprawling network of over 60 websites carefully impersonating legitimate websites of news organizations in Europe, including Spiegel, The Guardian and Bild," Meta said in a statement. "There, they would post original articles that criticized Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees, supported Russia and argued that Western sanctions on Russia would backfire."

Meta described this as the largest and most complex Russian operation of its kind that its team has been able to disrupt since the start of the war in Ukraine in late February. Its investigation began after a review of journalistic activity in Germany.

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Speaking to National Public Radio, Ben Nimmo, Meta's head of global threat intelligence, said the fakes were a little too good, running their misinformation campaigns under real bylines.

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"If you pretend to be Spiegel in Germany in front of an audience where Spiegel is one of the best-known brands in the country, then what you're doing is increasing the risk that somebody is actually going to look at you and say, 'Wait a minute, this is not the real thing,'" he said.

On China, Meta said it was able to take down a "small network" that targeted the United States and the Czech Republic. The U.S. campaign focused on the upcoming midterm elections by creating fake accounts posing as leaders on both sides of the political spectrum, including U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican. Those fake accounts relayed information on hot-button issues such as abortion and gun rights.

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In the Czech Republic, the Chinese operation focused on broadcasting anti-government messages, as well as critique of the government's opposition to the war in Ukraine.

Meta said all of the nefarious activity was removed for violating its policy against so-called Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior.

"We shared information with our peers at tech companies, security researchers, governments and law enforcement so they, too, can take appropriate action," it added.

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Online disinformation campaigns, meanwhile, are not exclusive to U.S. adversaries. Investigators at social media analytics firm Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory spent five years evaluating pro-Western covert influence operations and found a web of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and five other social media platforms that used deceptive tactics to promote U.S. narratives in the Middle East and central Asia.

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