Researchers Unveil Details of Extensive Pro-Western Influence Campaigns

Written by AJ Vicens

A pro-Western influence campaign involving dozens of Facebook Instagram profiles, pages, groups and accounts, as well as more than 150 Twitter accounts pushed narratives promoting American interests and attacking American rivals between March 2012 and August 2022 , researchers said in a report released Wednesday.

“We believe this activity represents the most extensive case of covert pro-Western [information operations] on social media to be examined and analyzed by open source researchers to date”, Stanford Internet Observatory Cyber ​​Policy Center and social media intelligence firm Graphika written in their joint report.

The researchers analyzed data provided to them by Twitter and Meta, Facebook’s parent company, after the platforms in July and August removed overlapping sets of accounts that violated the platforms’ policies on inauthentic behavior. . The resulting investigation uncovered “an interconnected web of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and five other social media platforms that used deceptive tactics,” the researchers said, and “appear to cover a series of covert campaigns on a period of nearly five years rather than a homogeneous operation.

The operation included previously undocumented covert activity promoting pro-Western narratives in the Middle East and Central Asia. The campaigns slandered Russia, China and Iran, with a heavy focus on Russia, according to the analysis.

Neither Meta nor Twitter publicly attributed the activity, the researchers wrote. Twitter listed the operation’s “presumed country of origin” as the United States and Britain, while Meta said the “country of origin” was the United States, without providing further details. .

Researchers have linked identified pro-Western covert operations on Facebook and Twitter to an ongoing overt U.S. government campaign known as the Trans-Regional Web Initiative, a collection of military-run propaganda websites promoting views positive about the United States abroad.

According to the researchers, the black ops relied on tactics familiar to those who study modern social media-based info ops: fake personalities, generative adversarial network (GAN) images to create people who don’t exist, fake media outlets claiming to be independent. and attempts to launch hashtag campaigns and promote online petitions.

But, like a growing number of these types of campaigns, it doesn’t seem to have generated much real traction.

“The vast majority of posts and tweets we reviewed received only a handful of likes or retweets, and only 19% of secret assets we identified had more than 1,000 followers,” the researchers wrote. . “Tellingly, the two most followed assets in the data provided by Twitter were overt accounts that publicly declared a connection to the US military.”

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