Facebook removes political influence operations from China and Russia

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Facebook’s parent company Meta said it removed two unrelated networks of accounts based in China and Russia that seek to influence political narratives in the United States and Europe.

The platform regularly searches for and removes accounts that it believes have violated its policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior. Such activity became a flashpoint in the US after the 2016 presidential election, when intelligence agencies found that Russian groups had been using social media platforms to push divisive narratives in the US

The Russian-based influence campaign mainly targeted Germany as well as France, Italy, Ukraine and the UK. Beginning in May, a network of more than 60 websites impersonating legitimate news organizations in Europe posted original articles criticizing Ukraine and arguing against Western sanctions against Russia. Meta said. The group would promote the articles and original memes and YouTube videos across platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, Twitter and Change.org, it added.

Meta called the operation “the largest and most complex operation of Russian origin that we have disrupted since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.”

“It presented an unusual combination of sophistication and brute force,” Meta said. “The fake websites and the use of many languages ​​required both technical and linguistic investments. The reinforcement on social media, on the other hand, relied primarily on crude ads and fake accounts.”

Meta said the group would set up new sites, even as it blocked their original domains throughout the investigation. The pages operated across several different languages, and their posts were occasionally augmented by the Facebook pages of Russian embassies in Europe and Asia.

Still, Meta said most of the accounts were detected and removed by its automated system before it even began its investigation.

Separately, Meta said it removed a “small network” started in China that targeted the United States, the Czech Republic and some Chinese- and French-speaking audiences elsewhere. The campaign “included four largely separate and short-lived efforts, each of which focused on a specific audience at different times between fall 2021 and mid-September 2022,” Meta said.

In the U.S., the China-based operation “targeted people on both sides of the political spectrum,” Meta said, and was the first Chinese network focused on U.S. domestic politics, which it disrupted ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Previously, the company said, would Chinese influence campaigns, which it disrupted, usually focus on criticizing the United States to audiences in other countries.

The campaign in the Czech Republic pushed anti-government narratives, Meta said, targeting the state’s support for Ukraine. Meta said each campaign featured about half a dozen accounts and posted “during business hours in China” and that few people actually engaged with the posts.

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