Apr 7, 2022 - Technology

Scammers seize on war in Ukraine

Illustration of a smartphone with an angry face multiplying into many smartphones.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Facebook says it has removed "tens of thousands of accounts, Pages and Groups" around the world for spreading misleading content about the conflict to build audiences and bring in cash.

Why it matters: Scammers have long latched on to breaking news events to post clickbait that can earn them revenue. Russia's Ukraine invasion created an enormous opportunity for bad actors because so much of the content being shared online is video that's harder to moderate.

Details: In a new report released Thursday, security officials at Facebook described incidents in which profiteers used Facebook to lure visitors off-site by posting innocuous content like live gaming videos and popular viral videos, including many from Ukraine.

  • Other spammers switched user names repeatedly to trick people into following them. They would then push their followings to other websites off-platform where they could either make ad revenue or sell merchandise.
  • Facebook said it also uncovered and took down multiple clusters of compromised accounts that have long been abandoned that suddenly shifted to being run out of Russia during the war, and then began sharing pro-separatist videos as part of paid inauthentic engagement.

The big picture: Facebook said it's continuing to take action against coordinated disinformation campaigns around the war.

  • For example, it detected and disrupted a campaign linked to the Belarusian KGB that began posting misinformation about Ukrainian troops surrendering at the beginning of the war.

What to watch: Facebook warns that many actors are moving their disinformation campaigns to platforms outside of Facebook.

  • Facebook said it has seen a further spike in email compromise attempts aimed at members of the Ukrainian military by Ghostwriter, a campaign tracked by the security community that targets people through compromised email accounts to gain access to their social media accounts to post disinformation.
  • The company also said it foiled an effort to return to Facebook by a network linked to individuals associated with past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA). The network had been booted from Facebook in 2020 but has resurfaced posting disinformation on its own websites, posing as a civil-rights NGO.
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