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Earlier this week, Meta published a threat report with their findings on three networks they took down in the U.S., China, and Russia. The former was linked to individuals associated with the US military – the accounts on Facebook and Instagram were being used in covert influence campaigns targeting Russia and the Middle East.

We removed 39 Facebook accounts, 16 Pages, two Groups, and 26 accounts on Instagram for violating our policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior. This network originated in the United States and focused on several countries including Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Somalia, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.

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One of the deleted Instagram accounts had 12,000 followers, while the most popular Facebook page had 22,000 followers and the largest group had 400 members.

We found this activity as part of our internal investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region. (…) Although the people behind this operation attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the US military.

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The internal investigation launched by Meta came after independent researchers from Graphika and the Standford Internet Observatory published a five-year analysis of pro-Western covert influence operations in August 2022.

How Did The Network Operate?

The disinformation network was organized into groups that pushed an agenda about various subjects based on what topics were popular in the mentioned countries. And to avoid being discovered by reverse image searches, the posters pretended to be natives of those countries by using fake images created via Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) software.

Some of the blacklisted Pages had custom graphics and logos and promoted similar content on YouTube, Twitter, Vkontakte, as well as other websites.

They posted videos, articles, photos, and memes about the country they focused on. When these brands ran the same image or meme, they would each superimpose their logo on it, likely to make the content appear more unique and credible.

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As Bleeping Computer explains, the fact that these accounts posted during U.S. business hours instead of the time zones of the nations they claimed to be headquartered in was a big giveaway that they were false.

The individuals behind these clusters posted in Arabic, Farsi, and Russian to praise the U.S. military and raise concerns about terrorism in locations of particular interest. The fake accounts spent $2,500 on Facebook advertising to guarantee that their content reached as many users as possible.

In September 2022, Meta also took down disinformation networks from China and Russia: the first used 81 Facebook accounts, and the second employed an impressive number of 1,633 accounts and 793 Facebook pages.

The complete threat report published by Meta on November 22 is available here.

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