An operation with Russian influence posed as an independent news agency to target left wing voters in the US and UK, including by recruiting freelance journalists to write about domestic politics, Facebook said Tuesday.
Facebook Inc said the operation, which partially focused on US politics and racial tension in the run-up to the November 3 presidential election, revolved around a pseudo-media organization called Peace Data.
The website operated 13 Facebook accounts and two pages, which were set up in May and blocked on Monday for the use of fake identities and other forms of “coordinated spurious behavior”.
Facebook said its investigation had “found ties to people linked to previous activities by the Russian Internet Research Agency,” a St. Petersburg-based company that US intelligence officials said was central to Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election Meaning was.
Twitter said it had also blocked five accounts as part of the operation, which it could “reliably attribute” to Russian state actors.
Peace Data did not respond to an email request for comment and Russian officials were not immediately available after normal working hours in Moscow. Russia previously rejected US allegations of wanting to influence the elections and stated that it does not interfere in other countries’ domestic politics.
Investigators from social media analytics firm Graphika looked into the operation, saying Peace Data mainly targeted progressive and left-wing groups in the US and UK, but also covered events in other countries, including Algeria and Egypt.
One report said the website criticized right-wing voices and the center of the left, and “paid special attention to racial and political tensions” in the United States, including civil rights protests and criticism of President Donald Trump and his Democrat rival Joe Biden.
Graphika said only around 5% of Peace Data’s English-language articles directly related to the US election, but “this facet of the operation suggests an attempt to build a left-wing audience and steer it away from Biden’s campaign.”
The results support an assessment by the top US counterintelligence official last month, who said Moscow was using online disinformation to undercut the Biden campaign and could raise concerns about further Russian efforts to meddle in the November vote.
A Trump campaign spokesman said the president would win re-election “fairly and fairly and we don’t need or don’t want foreign interference”. The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence referred questions to the FBI. In a statement, the FBI said it reported the activity on Facebook.
“The FBI has provided information on the matter to better protect against threats to the security of the nation and our democratic processes,” the statement said.
Information provided by the FBI
Facebook’s cybersecurity director Nathaniel Gleicher said his team responded to the FBI’s tip and blocked accounts before they had a large online following. Only 14,000 people followed one or more of the blocked accounts, he said.
“I think it’s very important that we know about it,” Gleicher told Reuters. “I want people to know that Russian actors are still trying and their tactics are evolving, but I don’t want people to think that this was a big, successful campaign.”
However, the three permanent employees listed online are not, according to the graphs analysis, which found that the profiles used computer-generated photos of non-existent people and were linked to fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter and the business networking site LinkedIn real.
The fake personas, advertised for writers on freelance journalist websites and on Twitter, that bid up to $ 75 for an article, featured screenshots of the ads seen by Reuters.
The Peace Data website lists 22 “contributors”, mostly freelance journalists in the US and UK. Facebook and Graphika said there was no indication that the authors knew who was behind the website.
Peace Data “staff” then shared the articles, which covered a wide range of political topics, in left-wing social media groups, Graphika said. The website published over 700 articles in English and Arabic between February and August this year.
Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at Graphika, said co-opting real people has made it easier for operations with political influence to go undetected.
“What we’ve seen lately has been a lot smaller and a lot less noticeable,” he said. “It looks like they’re trying harder and harder to hide.”
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)