As midterm season ramps up in the U.S., so does the online activity surrounding these elections. And according to Meta, it just shut down campaigns to influence them.
In a post published on Tuesday, Meta announced it had removed two unconnected networks tied to China and Russia for “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” This behavior includes efforts to manipulate the platforms’ users, and attempts to obscure who is behind the Facebook pages by utilizing both real and fake user accounts. Such activity is prohibited by Meta on its platforms.
While the social media giant has removed similar influence campaigns before, these two specific networks seem especially notable. According to Meta, the China-based network was the first it had come across that targeted U.S. domestic politics. The campaign also targeted the Czech Republic for its support of Ukraine in Russia’s war in the country.
Ben Nimmo, Meta’s Global Threat Intelligence Lead, explained in a tweet thread that the network “played both sides of U.S. debates.” Nimmo explained that the accounts and pages that were part of this network would present themselves as conservatives by posting pro-gun and anti-abortion content. Then this same network would post content calling for gun laws and pro-choice policies.
Meta says the Chinese network failed to build an audience and of the few users who did engage with its content, some even called it out as “fake.” The network ran across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even two Czech platforms.
As for the Russian network, Meta says it was the largest influence operation it had discovered from the country since its February invasion of Ukraine. That campaign mainly focused on topics surrounding the ongoing war. It targeted users in Germany, as well as Italy, France, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine.
According to Meta’s Director of Threat Disruption David Agranovich, the Russian operation used a combination of “sophistication (language skills, investment in spoof websites) and smash-and-grab social media tactics based on volume.” The campaign included more than 60 fake websites that attempted to impersonate some large European news outlets like The Guardian and Spiegel. These fake posts criticized Ukraine and supported Russia in the war. The network also utilized original memes and YouTube videos and posted across social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Telegram. The Russian campaign even posted links from LiveJournal, the blogging platform that was popular in the U.S. in the 90s. (LiveJournal was sold to a Russian media company in 2007.) It also shared links from petition websites such as Change.org and Avaaz.
While none of the social media accounts in the Russian campaign amassed more than a few thousand followers, Meta explained it was the “largest and most complex” known operation originating in Russia this year.
While neither the Chinese nor the Russian campaign seemed very successful, these influence operations are a look into what might be coming in the future. Meta has been removing Inauthentic Coordinated Behavior networks in Russia, for example, for years. Clearly, the bad actors behind these campaigns find them to be worthwhile.
This content was originally published here.