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According to the report, between June and September, Russian agents set up more than 60 websites that spoofed real news sites, including those of The Guardian and German publishers Der Spiegel and Bild. (Disclosure: Bild and Protocol are both owned by Axel Springer.) The sites, which primarily targeted users in Germany, France, Italy, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, were meticulous imitations of reality, borrowing not only the format and design of real news sites, but in some cases also the photos and signatures of real journalists.

Russian actors used these sites and fake online petitions to push false narratives – including that Ukraine had staged the killing of civilians in Bucha – then promoted their work on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Telegram, Twitter, Change.org, Avaaz, “and even LiveJournal,” the report reads. In total, Facebook and Instagram deleted nearly 2,000 accounts, more than 700 pages and one group, and detected some $105,000 in As Facebook and Instagram worked to shut down the network, more websites continued to pop up.

“This suggests persistence and continued investment in cross-internet activity,” David Agranovich, director of global threat disruption at Meta, said in a call with reporters. In some cases, the posts were boosted by official Russian diplomatic pages.

But while the network of websites was carefully developed, the fake accounts were more like a smash-and-grab, according to the report. Many of them were detected by the company’s automated systems, even before Meta began its investigation. “It comes across as a really unusual combination of sophistication and brute force,” Agranovich said.

In addition to the Russian network, Meta also detected a Chinese influence operation targeting the United States and Czechia. Although less extensive than the Russian network, the Chinese operation was notable, Meta executives said, for the way it tried to highlight both sides of controversial topics, such as gun rights and violence. access to abortion. “While this failed, it is significant because it is a new direction for Chinese influence operations,” said Ben Nimmo, threat intelligence manager of Meta’s global information operations.

Meta has shared its findings with other companies targeted by these news networks, as well as with governments and law enforcement. The company also makes the list of fake domains public “to allow for further research,” Agranovich said.

Meta’s report comes a day after Google researchers said pro-Russian hackers were coordinating with the Russian military to carry out cyberattacks in connection with the war in Ukraine. “Never before have we seen such a high volume of cyberattacks, variety of threat actors, and coordination of efforts in the same months,” Google’s report said, according at the Wall Street Journal.

In some ways, the Russian playbook now mirrors the one it used in the run-up to the 2016 elections, when the Russian Internet Research Agency established fake news sites focusing on race relations and other hot topics in the United States and then spread them on American social media. But the elaborate imitations of real news sites demonstrate a new level of Russian investment.

And yet, Agranovich said an encouraging sign was Russia’s information operation’s relative lack of traction on Facebook and Instagram this time around. “They were kind of throwing everything against the wall and not much was sticking,” he said. But he warned: “That doesn’t mean we can say mission accomplished.”

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