Russia’s flood of disinformation on Facebook ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a plot designed to help Donald Trump win, is probably the best-known example. But, as many warned would happen, the problem didn’t cease in 2016 or 2020, and it persists to this day.
You may have heard about a report Meta released Tuesday revealing that Russia and China waged multiple social manipulation campaigns on Facebook spanning from fall of 2021 to this month. The campaigns targeted people in the United States and the Czech Republic, Meta said.
(And I should note: The fact Meta is telling us about these manipulation campaigns suggests to me there have been many more we don’t know about. This isn’t, after all, a transparent organization.)
In recent weeks, thanks to multiple Twitter whistleblowers coming forward and a New York Times piece detailing Russia’s manipulation campaign during the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, the dangers of inauthentic accounts poisoning public discourse has come more into focus. Meta’s report should light a fire under Congress to take urgent action before free will in politics becomes a thing of the past.
Here are some of the most significant revelations from Meta’s report:
- Meta said the Chinese manipulation campaign involved Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and two Czech petition platforms. Meta claims the campaign was “small in size” and uses similar language throughout the report to downplay the threat posed by the campaigns. In all, Meta said 81 Facebook accounts, eight Facebook pages, one Facebook group and two Instagram accounts were used in the Chinese effort.
- The Chinese campaign used memes attacking Democrats and Republicans alike in an attempt to sow discord, Meta said. As examples, Meta provided images targeting President Joe Biden and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
- Meta said the Chinese campaign focused on four “clusters”: criticizing U.S. foreign policy; attacking liberals from a conservative viewpoint; attacking conservatives from a liberal viewpoint; and instigating Czechs on a host of domestic and international issues.
- The Chinese campaign involved accounts that shared Kremlin-backed disinformation, including lies (parroted by some Republicans) claiming the U.S. was running bioweapon labs in Ukraine in preparation for an attack.
- With the Russian campaign, Meta says it took down a “large network” of more than 60 websites “carefully impersonating legitimate news organizations in Europe,” including Spiegel, The Guardian, Bild and ANSA, an Italian news agency.
- The Russian-backed fake news sites published “original articles that criticized Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees, praised Russia and argued that Western sanctions on Russia would backfire,” according to Meta. After publication, Russian-backed fake social media accounts would share the content.
- Meta said the Russian campaign involved 1,633 Facebook accounts, 703 Facebook pages, one Facebook group and 29 Instagram accounts.
- The Russian campaign involved spending $105,000 for ads on Facebook and Instagram, mostly with U.S. dollars and euros, Meta said.