Meta outlines US involvement in social media disinformation in new report

The social media giant’s latest quarterly adversarial threat report describes three coordinated disinformation networks, one of which appears to originate from the US.

A report released by Meta’s security team describes the company’s shutdown of a network of Facebook and Instagram accounts participating in what it calls coordinated inauthentic behavior, and linking some of those accounts to the US military.

“Coordinated inauthentic behavior” is Meta’s term for misinformation activity performed by groups of social media accounts on its platforms that target particular groups or demographics. CIB groups, the company said in a 2018 official blog post, are targeted for removal not because of the content that they share, but because of their deceptive nature.

The network that Meta described in its most recent report, posted Tuesday, has its roots in the US, mostly posting during normal business hours for US eastern time, instead of the work hours normal for the areas it targeted, which included Iran, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Different clusters of the network, according to Meta, talked up particular themes in its content, ranging from culture and sports in specific countries to criticism of China, Iran and Russia.

The people making posts via this network tried to appear as locals in the target countries, and used a wide array of different social media channels, including Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and VKontakte, as well as different websites and blogs. Many posts were written in Arabic, Russian and Farsi, and concerned news and current events, praised the US military and criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The network was first described publicly by researchers at social media analytics firm Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory in August. In total, 39 Facebook accounts, two Groups, 16 Pages and 26 Instagram accounts were said to be involved in the network, which spent around $2,500 on Facebook ads.

When asked for its response, the US Department of Defense said only that it was aware of the report and would offer no further comment on the matter.

China, Russia also involved in misinformation campaigns

Similar networks, one with its roots in China and another apparently based in Russia, were also taken down in Meta’s latest action. The Russian network was substantially larger than the US and Chinese efforts, with 1,633 suspect accounts on Facebook and $105,000 in ad spending. The Russian and Chinese networks were both publicly reported by Meta in September, but included in the most recent quarterly report as well.

“In each case, people coordinate with one another and use fake accounts to mislead others about who they are and what they are doing,” Monday’s report said. “When we investigate and remove these operations, we focus on behavior rather than content – no matter who’s behind them, what they post or whether they’re foreign or domestic."

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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