Fighting a Disinformation War on Social Media

Disinformation is part of most military campaigns. And the Russian invasion of Ukraine is no exception.

Recently Facebook and parent company Meta said they suspended 40 fake accounts. Account creators had violated rules against coordinated hacks. And against disinformation campaigns pertaining to the war in Eastern Europe.

The group responsible is known as Ghostwriter. They gained access to some Facebook accounts registered in Ukraine. They then posted propaganda on those accounts. Including depicting Ukraine soldiers as weak. Or surrendering to Russian troops with a white flag. 

The same type of thing has occurred on YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and Telegram. As well as Russian social media sites such as VK and Odnoklassniki. Twitter said it suspended more than a dozen accounts and blocked several links.

Ghostwriter Targets Ukraine

In a statement, Meta said, “Ghostwriter typically targets people through email compromise. And then uses that to gain access to their social media accounts. And post disinformation as if it’s coming from the legitimate account owners. 

“We’ve taken steps to secure accounts that we believe were targeted by this threat actor. And, when we can, to alert the users that they had been targeted.

“We also blocked phishing domains these hackers used to try to trick people in Ukraine into compromising their online accounts.

“When we disrupted this network on our platform, it had fewer than 4,000 Facebook accounts following one or more of its pages. And fewer than 500 accounts following one or more of its Instagram accounts.”

Google took down several YouTube channels that were involved in the campaign. A spokesperson said fewer than 90 subscribers saw the videos in question.

Meta Responds With Shutdowns

Meta added that it shut down several pages claiming to be independent news outlets. That was due to unfounded accusations of Western betrayal of Ukraine. And Ukraine being a failed state.

They used fake personas, including computer-generated profile pictures, to masquerade as news outlets. They also attempted to hack Ukrainian military officials and journalists.

Of course, this type of thing works both ways. Numerous Russian media sites have also been hacked. Including news agency TASS, Kommersant and Izvestia.

Hackers displayed messages calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to end.

One message read this way. “Dear citizens. We urge you to stop this madness. Do not send your sons and husbands to certain death. Putin is forcing us to lie and is putting us in danger.”

Anonymous Aims at Russia in Cyber Battle

Some messages are displaying Russian war dead. One read: “More deaths than in the First Chechen War 1994-1996.”

Another message read: “We have been isolated from the whole world. They have stopped buying oil and gas. In a few years we will be living like North Korea.

“What is this for? So that Putin can get into the history books? It is not our war. Let’s stop him!”    

The hacker group Anonymous took credit for some of these hacks. Here’s what they said in a tweet. “The Anonymous collective is officially in cyber war against the Russian government.” 

Russia Complains of Censorship

As mentioned previously, disinformation is nothing new. It’s just more sophisticated these days.

Russia used fake social media accounts and bots to spread disinformation. During both its 2014 campaign to annex Crimea and in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

Meta and Google have blocked some Russian state media from access to Ukraine. That was at the request of the Ukrainian government.  

Two of those outlets, RT and Sputnik, have been barred for users in the European Union. The Russian government has accused Meta and Google of censorship.

Meta’s Countermeasures Explained

David Agranovich is director of threat disruption for Meta. Here’s what he told reporters regarding Ghostwriter.

“They would write an article, posting that article onto their website as if they were a reporter or commentator. And then the accounts were really just designed to post links to their own websites. And direct people off the platform. 

“We took this operation down. We’ve blocked their domains from being shared on our platform.

“And we’ve shared information about the operations with other tech platforms. (And) with researchers and with governments.”

Meta also banned Russian state media from running ads or making money on its platforms.

How to Protect Yourself

Meta has offered advice to Ukrainian and Russian social media users. We would do well to follow that same advice.

Included in their suggestions were:

  • Lock your social media profiles
  • Manage your friends and followers lists
  • Secure your Instagram account
  • Don’t open links and files from people you don’t know
  • Refrain from using the same passwords across different services
  • Use two-factor authentication on all online accounts

Patriot Power Cell

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  • Tomie - March 15, 2022

    Having been an admin for a FB page for several years and a regular user for many more years, I have to dispute one specific quote in the piece regarding the hacks META says they have been fighting:
    “We’ve taken steps to secure accounts that we believe were targeted by this threat actor. And, when we can, to alert the users that they had been targeted…”
    Specifically – alert the users that they have been targeted
    Unless there has been a MAJOR shift in the process, in the history of the FB platform, people personally “alerted” of being targeted being notified does NOT happen. In fact, when individuals have attempted to let FB know or friends of people who are known to have been hacked reach out to FB to report accounts have been compromised – NOTHING IS EVER DONE and people lose their accounts. Some have regained control by changing their passwords, but usually they simply lose their accounts and have to go through the hassle of creating a new account.
    In fact, FB routinely uses AI to scan accounts and take them down for no reason. A user affected by this process attempts to log in and is denied, they are given a link and sent to instructions. When contacted, if FB responds (ONLY VIA written communication – you will NEVER speak to someone from FB on the phone or other vocal method), the message is you must provide PROOF you are who you say you are in the form of official identification such as a driver license or other identification. Should you agree to do this, several days later, your account will be released and a one line note “sorry for the inconvenience” will be provided. This happened to me and it took over a week to get my account returned to me. At this time in my group, there are over 150 individuals who are listed as “not available”, previously others who found themselves blocked from their accounts were able to get them back by taking the steps above, but FB NEVER EVER contacted them and they went through the same thing I did.
    So they need to fact check themselves because in that one paragraph, I know from experience they are lying, thus making the whole piece extremely doubtful in terms of being legitimate – probably playing the propaganda game with the others.
    Thank you.

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