Aug 24, 2022 - Technology

Meta, Twitter take down accounts pushing pro-U.S. messages

Illustration of hands with markers crossing out content on a laptop screen
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Meta and Twitter have taken down accounts pushing pro-U.S. and pro-Western themes to Middle Eastern and Central Asian audiences, per a new report.

Driving the news: In July and August, both platforms removed the accounts for violating terms of service around manipulation and inauthentic behavior, researchers from the social media analytics group Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory write in the report.

Why it matters: In the past it hasn't been common for such campaigns to push pro-Western narratives and messages boosting the U.S. and its allies. More typically these campaigns of "coordinated inauthentic behavior," as Meta calls them, have aimed at undermining democracy and boost authoritarian governments.

  • Most influence operation campaigns have been linked to Russia, China and Iran.

Yes, but: The campaign, which included messages across Facebook, Twitter Instagram and other social media platforms in a series of campaigns over a period of about five years, did not have a ton of impact.

  • The posts and tweets got limited engagement, and only 19% of the "covert assets" identified by researchers had more than 1,000 followers.

What they're saying: "This activity represents the most extensive case of a covert influence operation advancing pro-Western narratives that has been publicly documented to date," said Jack Stubbs, vice president of intelligence at Graphika, per the WSJ.

  • "It shows that beyond well-known actors linked to Russia, China and Iran, other groups with different motivations are using the same deceptive tactics in their attempts to infiltrate and sway online communities."

Details: The accounts' messages were about Western foreign policy — including highlighting China's treatment of its Uyghur Muslim population and criticizing Russia's war on Ukraine and its links to the Taliban.

  • The accounts created fake personas with deepfake technology. Some posed as media outlets, using memes and videos and attempting hashtag campaigns and trying to circulate online petitions.
  • These tactics are typical of most influence campaigns today, the researchers say.
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