A Russian influence operation introduced as an independent news outlet to goal left wing voters from the United States and Britain, including by recruitment freelance journalists to write about domestic politics, Facebook has stated.
Facebook stated the operation – which partly focused on US politics and racial tensions from the run-up into the November the 3rd presidential election – centred round a social networking organisation called Peace Data.
The website operated 13 Facebook accounts and 2 pages, which were put up in May and suspended on Monday for using fake identities and other sorts of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour,” the firm said.
Facebook said its analysis “found links to individuals associated with past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency”, a St Petersburg-based company which US intelligence officials say was fundamental to Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential elections.
Moscow has denied those allegations and says it does not interfere with the domestic politics of other countries.
Investigators at social networking analytics firm Graphika studied the operation and said Peace Data predominately targeted innovative and left wing groups in the United States and Britain, but also posted about incidents in different countries including Algeria and Egypt.
It said in a report that the site pushed messages critical of right-wing beliefs and the centre left, and at the United States “paid particular attention to racial and political tensions”, including civil rights protests and criticism of President Donald J Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden.
Graphika said only about 5% of Peace Data’s English-language articles directly concerned the US election, but that “this facet of the operation suggests an attempt to build a left-wing audience and steer it away from Biden’s campaign.”
The findings support an evaluation by the United States’ top counterintelligence official last month, who said Moscow was using online disinformation to try to undercut the Biden campaign, and could stoke fears about further Russian efforts to interfere in the November vote.
“I think that it’s essential that people know about this,” Gleicher told journalists at our partner news agency Reuters. “I want people to know Russian actors are still striving and their strategies are still evolving, but I wouldn’t want people to believe that this was a large, successful effort.”
Peace Data publishes in English and Arabic and says on its website it is a non-profit news organisation seeking “the truth about key world events”.
But the three permanent staff listed online are not real, according to the Graphika analysis, which found the profiles used computer-generated photographs of non-existent people and were linked to fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter and business-networking site LinkedIn.
The fake personas advertised for writers on freelance journalism websites and Twitter, offering up to $75 for an article, screenshots of the adverts seen by Reuters showed.
Peace Data’s website lists 22 “subscribers”, mostly freelance journalists in the US and UK. Facebook and Graphika said there was no indication the writers knew who was behind the website.
Peace Data “staff” then shared the articles, covering a wide range of political issues, 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, head of investigations at Graphika, said co-opting real people made it easier for political influence operations to remain undetected.
“What we have seen lately has been considerably smaller and much lower profile,” he said.
“It looks as though they’re looking harder and harder to hide”
The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed the ‘Facebook says Russian influence campaign targeted left-wing voters‘ article. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Jack Stubbs. Editing by Timothy Heritage.
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