Meta shuts down covert influence campaigns it says are carried out from China and Russia

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CNN Business

Facebook’s parent company, Meta, on Tuesday announced it had discovered and shut down two separate networks of fake accounts engaged in covert influence operations from China and Russia.

China’s network is small and has barely received any attention, but it has included a number of accounts posing as Americans on both sides of the political spectrum, according to a published Meta report. on Tuesday. Meta has publicly detailed the takedown as it remains on high alert for foreign interference in the US midterm elections, a Meta spokesman told CNN. Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead, told CNN this is the first time the company has seen Chinese accounts targeting Americans in this way. “They’re using fake accounts posing as Americans and trying to talk like Americans, and they’re talking about issues that are really divisive in the country like abortion and gun control,” he said.

The company shared details of its Chinese accounts with the FBI, a Meta spokesman said.

On the other hand, the Russian campaign is vast. It fuels pro-Kremlin narratives about the war in Ukraine, covers thousands of accounts and pages on multiple social media platforms, and spends more than $100,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads.

Meta does not attribute the campaign to specific entities inside China or Russia, or to the Chinese and Russian governments, instead stating only that accounts that were part of the campaign were used in other countries. respective country.

Meta said the network of Russian accounts it took down was “the largest and most complex Russian operation that we have disrupted since the war in Ukraine began, it operates a vast network of more than 60 websites impersonating news organizations, as well as accounts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Telegram, Twitter,” and others, according to the report.

More than 2,000 Facebook accounts and pages are part of an effort to promote pro-Kremlin narratives about the war in Ukraine, Meta said. Meta says more than $100,000 was spent on Facebook and Instagram ads as part of the campaign.

This activity includes websites designed to mimic real Western news outlets, including The Guardian. According to the list of website addresses included in the Meta report, the Russian campaign also registered fake websites designed to look like The Daily Mail and the German newspapers Bild and Der Spiegel.

The sophistication of the effort was shown in an attempt to spread misinformation about the Bucha massacre.

Meta noted on Tuesday, “The Guardian mimicking website published an article accusing Ukraine of orchestrating the killing of civilians during the Russian occupation of Bucha,” according to the report.

“The imitation is not perfect,” noted Meta, “but it does show an investment in making the site appear authentic so that it can withstand at least some casual scrutiny.”

The Chinese effort consists of only about 80 Facebook accounts and hardly any followers. Meta says the accounts are primarily targeted at audiences in the United States and the Czech Republic but are posted during business hours in Beijing.

“These accounts are largely stuck to a shift pattern that coincides with a 9-to-5 business day, Monday through Friday during business hours in China — 12 hours before Florida and Friday,” Meta said. hours before Prague,” according to the report.

According to Meta, some accounts are believed to be conservative Americans, while others are libertarians living in Florida, Texas and California, according to Meta.

Accounts that posted comments on several American news stories appear to be designed to cause controversy online.

Despite receiving little traction online, Meta noted the importance of the network in its report. “This is the first China network that we disrupted focusing on US domestic politics ahead of the midterm elections,” said Meta. “The Chinese influence operations that we have disrupted in the past have often focused on criticizing the United States to an international audience, rather than primarily targeting a domestic audience in the United States.”

Ben Nimmo of Meta told CNN, “it’s a small operation and it doesn’t seem to generate any meaningful audience but it’s the first time we’ve seen an activity from China like this actually.” focused on US political debates and we were all on high alert ahead of midterms. ”

“We know that even small activities these days work across different social media platforms. So the more we can share information about it, the more we can let people know how this is happening, the more we can all raise our defenses.” he said in an interview with CNN Monday night.

CNN has reached out to the FBI, Twitter, Telegram and YouTube for comment.

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