Meta, the parent company for Facebook, announced this week that it had detected and shut down two separate networks of fake accounts that were engaged in covert influence operations originating in China and Russia.
The Chinese network was still relatively small and did not get very much attention online, but it did include some accounts that pretended to be Americans on both sides of the political aisle. This is according to the report released by Meta on Tuesday.
Meta revealed in detail the takedown and showed that it was still on high alert for foreign interference in the U.S. midterm elections, a spokesperson for the company told CNN.
Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead, told CNN that it was the first time the company had seen Chinese accounts that were targeting Americans politically.
“They were running fake accounts that pretended to be Americans and try to talk like Americans and they were talking about really divisive domestic issues like abortion and gun control,” he said.
They have shared their information about these Chinese accounts with the FBI.
When it comes to the Russian government, social media platforms walk on eggshells. The campaign from Moscow was massive. It pushed pro-Kremlin storylines about the war in Ukraine. It included thousands of accounts and pages across multiple social media platforms. And it spent more than $100,000 on ads on Facebook and Instagram.
Meta did not attribute either campaign to specific organizations in China or Russia and they did not communicate with the Chinese and the Russian governments. They said only the accounts that were run out of the respective countries were shut down.
Meta did say about the Russian accounts that they were the “largest and most complex Russian operation we’ve disrupted since the war in Ukraine began, it ran a sprawling network of over 60 websites impersonating news organizations, as well as accounts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Telegram, Twitter,” and other sites, according to the report.
There were more than 2,000 Facebook accounts and pages that were focused on pushing pro-Kremlin narratives. In the past, Russia has spent over $300 million on influencing foreign elections since 2014, US officials report.
Some of the pages were designed to look like real Western news outlets including The Guardian. Russia had sites that mimicked The Daily Mail and German outlets like Bild and Der Spiegel.
Meta revealed that the website that was meant to look like The Guardian posted an article that accused Ukraine of staging the murder of civilians during the Russian occupation of Bucha. They said the site wasn’t perfect, but it showed a significant investment into making it appear authentic.
The Chinese work only consisted of about 80 Facebook accounts and it did not have much of a following. The accounts targeted people in the United States and the Czech Republic.
Meta said, “these accounts largely stuck to a shift pattern that coincided with a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday work schedule during working hours in China — 12 hours ahead of Florida and six hours ahead of Prague,” according to the report.
Some of the accounts were from the right and others from the left. They were designed to create debate online.
Meta’s Ben Nimmo told CNN that the more they can share information, and the more they can explain to people how this is happening, the more we all can raise our defenses.
A Twitter spokesperson told CNN, “We’ve been investigating the information referenced in this report for some time, and we’ll take enforcement action on accounts that violate the Twitter Rules.”
CNN has reached out to the FBI, Telegram, and YouTube for comment.