Meta finds disturbing rise in misinformation on Russian social media

In this photo from October 28, 2021, Facebook unveiled its new Meta logo on a sign at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File

Russian-aligned hackers broke into the social media accounts of dozens of Ukrainian military officers and were working to upload videos of defeated and surrendering Ukrainian soldiers when the plot was cut short, according to a report published Thursday by Meta. which details a troubling rise in misinformation on social media. This year.

The Facebook and Instagram owner’s report found an increase in content related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as new instances of domestic disinformation and propaganda in countries around the world, suggesting that the tactics developed by foreign intelligence agencies are now being used more widely. .

“While much of the public attention in recent years has focused on foreign interference, domestic threats are on the rise around the world,” said Nick Clegg, Meta’s president for global affairs and former British Deputy Prime Minister.

Russia and its allies are major players, according to the report, with Kremlin-linked groups spreading misinformation about its invasion of Ukraine while amplifying pro-Russian conspiracy theories at home.

Meta traced the effort to take over the social media accounts of dozens of Ukrainian military leaders to a hacker organization known as the Ghostwriter, which previous research has linked to Belarus, a Russian ally. Ghostwriter has a history of spreading NATO-critical content and has also attempted to hack into email accounts.

“It’s a proven thing,” said Ben Read, director of cyber espionage analytics at Mandiant, a major US cybersecurity firm that has tracked Ghostwriter’s activities for years. Last year, Mandiant said digital clues suggested the hackers were based in Belarus, although EU officials had previously blamed Russia.

Belarus and Russia did not respond to the claims.

The report describes other disinformation efforts related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including one involving dozens of fake accounts that spread anti-Ukrainian rhetoric. Another network filed thousands of bogus complaints against Ukrainian Facebook users in an attempt to get them kicked out of the platform. This network hid its activities in a Facebook group supposedly dedicated to cooking.

In Russia, the Kremlin has blocked hundreds of news sources and websites, including Facebook and Twitter, and threatened with imprisonment anyone who tries to report on the war. Instead of accurate journalism, the state-controlled media spread discredited conspiracy theories about Ukrainian Nazis or secret US bioweapons labs.

Meta and other big tech companies have responded by removing or restricting Russian state media, targeting disinformation networks and labeling content they don’t remove. Twitter announced this week that it would also label Belarusian state-controlled media.

The prevalence of Russia-related propaganda and misinformation on social media shows a more aggressive response is needed, says the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a London-based nonprofit that supports greater regulation social networks. A study by the group found numerous Facebook mentions of the discredited Russian bioweapons conspiracy theory.

“Despite actions against state broadcasters under enormous pressure, Meta is failing severely to contain major disinformation narratives that benefit Putin’s regime,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the center.

Meta said it will be rolling out additional policies in the coming weeks and months to ensure it stays ahead of groups seeking to exploit its platforms. Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy at Meta, noted that groups seeking to spread disinformation and propaganda are also adapting their tactics.

“We would expect them to come back,” Gleicher said.

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