February 23, 2023 | Sky News

‘Smash-and-grab’ Russian-origin accounts flood Meta platforms with Ukraine war disinformation

Despite Russian state-controlled media being banned by Meta, Russian disinformation operations have continued on Facebook and Instagram with thousands of unsophisticated accounts flooding the online environment with Russian views on the invasion, said the president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, ahead of the release of their quarterly adversarial threat report. While these accounts aren’t as established and are easier to detect, they could just be trying to overwhelms Meta’s infrastructure. The change in tactic may also indicate that Russia was ‘unprepared and not expecting to need to use this type of information war tactic’.

ISD’s Tim Squirrell, Head of Communications & Editorial, features in Sky News commenting on the findings: “It’s unsurprising that there has been a proliferation of pro-Kremlin accounts trying to crowd out the information environment with their propaganda,” he said, ‘warning that there are networks of pro-Kremlin influencers who are even more effective at spreading Moscow’s views than both state media or Russian-origin propaganda’.

Reflecting on how quickly Meta was able to react to this threat, Tim said: “If the figures are correct, it indicates that downranking and demonetisation does have an impact… This begs the question as to why Meta refuses to do that for the large array of other toxic content on its platform.

They’ve proven they respond under massive international pressure, but aren’t able to proactively do it when it might compromise their bottom line.”

While Meta’s efforts are welcomed, Tim points how difficult it is for researchers, including ISD’s analysts, to access the company’s data and assess it themselves. ISD analysis shows mis- and disinformation is still present on Meta platforms.

“It’s great they’re removing explicit propaganda campaigns but there’s so much misinformation and disinformation that they have let run virtually unchecked on their platforms, particularly around events like Bucha – where we found that posts questioning the massacre were three times as likely to be shared as those involving corroborated reporting – and with seemingly ‘independent’ influencers using Instagram to cast aspersions on conflict-related events.”