Russian disinformation surged on social media after Ukraine invasion, reports Meta | Ukraine

Russian-aligned hackers compromised the social media accounts of dozens of Ukrainian military officers, attempting to upload videos of defeated and surrendering Ukrainian soldiers before being arrested by Meta, a new report has revealed.

The report from Facebook and Instagram’s parent company detailed an increase in misinformation on social media this year, including an increase in content related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It also indicated an increase in domestic disinformation and propaganda in countries around the world, suggesting that tactics pioneered by foreign intelligence agencies are now being used more widely.

“While much of the public attention in recent years has focused on foreign interference, domestic threats are on the rise around the world,” said Nick Clegg, Meta’s president for global affairs.

Russia and its allies are major players in the field of disinformation, according to the report, with Kremlin-linked groups spreading disinformation about its invasion of Ukraine while amplifying pro-Russian conspiracy theories at home.

Meta traced the effort to take over the social media accounts of dozens of Ukrainian military leaders to a hacker organization known as the Ghostwriter, which was previously linked to Russia’s ally Belarus. Ghostwriter has a habit of spreading content critical of NATO and has attempted to hack into email accounts.

“It’s a proven thing they do,” said Ben Read, director of cyber espionage analytics at Mandiant, a major US cybersecurity firm that has tracked Ghostwriter’s activities for years. Last year, Mandiant said digital clues suggested the hackers were based in Belarus, although EU officials had previously blamed Russia.

Belarus and Russia did not respond to the claims. Since its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Russia has battled big tech companies to control the flow of information online, banning Facebook and Instagram and limiting Twitter by slowing down its service.

Instead of accurate journalism, the state-controlled media spread discredited conspiracy theories about Ukrainian Nazis and secret US bioweapons labs.

Social media companies have responded with a series of measures aimed at cracking down on Russia, including removing or restricting Russian state media, targeting disinformation networks and labeling content they don’t remove. Twitter announced this week that it would also label Belarusian state-controlled media.

Still, critics say that hasn’t been enough to stem the flow of misinformation, and Meta’s report shows the problem persists. It described other disinformation campaigns related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including one involving dozens of fake accounts spreading anti-Ukrainian rhetoric.

Another hacker ring has filed thousands of bogus complaints against Ukrainian Facebook users in an attempt to get them kicked out of the platform. This network hid its activities in a Facebook group supposedly dedicated to cooking.

The disinformation report comes years after Russia launched an intensive disinformation campaign on Meta platforms with the aim of influencing the 2016 election, drawing attention to the huge implications of the issue.

The prevalence of Russia-related propaganda and misinformation on social media shows a more aggressive response is needed, says the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a London-based nonprofit that supports greater regulation social networks. A study by the group found numerous Facebook mentions of the discredited Russian bioweapons conspiracy theory.

“Despite actions against state broadcasters under enormous pressure, Meta is failing severely to contain major disinformation narratives that benefit Putin’s regime,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the center.

Meta said it will be rolling out additional policies in the coming weeks and months to ensure it stays ahead of groups seeking to exploit its platforms. Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy at Meta, noted that groups trying to spread disinformation and propaganda are also adapting their tactics.

“We would expect them to come back,” Gleicher said.

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