New York [US]: Meta, the parent company of Facebook, on Tuesday took down two separate covert influence networks operating from China and Russia.
Meta publicly detailed the takedown as it remains on high alert for foreign interference in the US midterm elections, a Meta spokesperson told CNN.
The Chinese network was small and received barely any attention, but it did include some accounts that posed as Americans on both sides of the political spectrum, according to a Meta report.
Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead, told CNN it was the first time the company had seen Chinese accounts targeting Americans in this way.
“They were running fake accounts that pretended to be Americans and try to talk like Americans and they were talking about really divisive domestic issues like abortion and gun control,” he said.
The company has shared details of the Chinese accounts with the FBI, a Meta spokesperson said.
The Russian campaign, on the other hand, was vast. It pushed pro-Kremlin narratives about the war in Ukraine, included thousands of accounts and pages across multiple social media platforms and spent more than USD 100,000 on ads on Facebook and Instagram.
Meta did not attribute either campaign to specific entities within China or Russia, or to the Chinese and Russian governments, instead saying only the accounts that were part of the campaigns were run out of the respective countries, reported CNN.
Meta said the network of Russian accounts it had taken down was the “largest and most complex Russian operation we’ve disrupted since the war in Ukraine began, it ran a sprawling network of over 60 websites impersonating news organisations, as well as accounts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Telegram, Twitter,” and other sites, according to the report.
The operation included websites that were designed to mimic real Western news outlets, including The Guardian. According to a list of website addresses included in the Meta report, the Russian campaign also registered fake sites designed to look like The Daily Mail and the German outlets Bild and Der Spiegel, reported CNN.
The sophistication of the effort was demonstrated in its attempts to promote disinformation about the Bucha massacre.
The Chinese effort only consisted of about 80 Facebook accounts and barely had any following. Meta said the accounts primarily targeted audiences in the United States and the Czech Republic but posted during working hours in Beijing.
Meta said, “these accounts largely stuck to a shift pattern that coincided with a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday work schedule during working hours in China — 12 hours ahead of Florida and six hours ahead of Prague,” according to the report.