Meta has disabled a Russian propaganda network which has targeted European social media users, spreading Kremlin-approved stories about the invasion of Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, announced that they have identified and disabled the largest Russian propaganda effort they’ve seen yet. It involved over 1,600 fake Facebook accounts and 60 websites made to mimic legitimate western news sources. For instance, the fake accounts linked to fake articles smearing Ukraine on websites intentionally designed to make readers think they were getting this news from The Guardian or Der Spiegel.
These false articles accused Ukraine and Ukrainian forces of things like false flag operations massacring their own people, alleged that Ukrainian war heroes and politicians were under investigation for rape or child trafficking, or accused the U.S. of using bio-weapons against Russian forces.
The articles and false accounts were made in multiple languages, indicating that the operation was intended to have an international impact. It was noticed by reporters in Germany and reported to Meta.
“On a few occasions, the operation’s content was amplified by the official Facebook pages of Russian embassies in Europe and Asia,” said David Agranovich, Meta’s director of threat disruption. “I think this is probably the largest and most complex Russian-origin operation that we’ve disrupted since the beginning of the war in Ukraine earlier this year.”
While the network cannot be definitively attributed to the Russian government, Agranovich noted that the effort was highly sophisticated and often tied back to Russian officials. The Russian embassy in the U.S., which has retweeted some of this content from its official twitter, was contacted for a response but has not replied.
According to Facebook, this operation was identified and blocked before it was able to gain much traction, though it was active all summer. According to Meta, their automated systems were largely successful at removing the false content in the months before they began their investigation.