Facebook and Twitter took a stand against Russian disinformation concerning their invasion of Ukraine over the weekend, removing what they called two “covert influence operations.”
One of those accounts was linked to Russia, while the other had ties to Belarus, according to the two social media giants.
The Russia-backed campaign was tied to a website espousing an anti-Ukraine propaganda campaign and was a known offshoot of an official Russian disinformation initiative. The account used faces created with A.I. to make fake columnists appear as actual users across several different social media accounts including Instagram.
The account run by a known Belarusian hacking collective used hacked accounts to bolster a similar batch of anti-Ukraine propaganda.
The accounts were amplifying claims made in a speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing a “military operation” that has since turned out to be an all-out invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian group was the largest of the two, according to Meta head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher, who said the group is associated with websites News Front and South Front. Both organizations have been deemed by the U.S. government to be part of a broader Russian intelligence disinformation effort.
Gleicher told NBC News that the campaign managed to “seed stories across the internet that Ukraine isn’t doing well” by “pretending to be journalists based in Kyiv.”
“The good news is that neither of these campaigns have been that effective, but we do see these actors trying to target Ukraine at this point,” he said. “These actors are trying to undermine trust in the Ukrainian government, suggest that it’s a failed state, suggest that the war is going very poorly in Ukraine or trying to praise Russia.”
Facebook had already removed News Front and South Front’s profiles back in 2020 after they questioned the effectiveness of COVID vaccines and the validity of the 2020 U.S. Presidential election. The sites were identified in a 2020 State Department report as Russian disinformation hubs.
Articles featured on News Front and South Front have headlines like “Zelensky is building a neo-Nazi dictatorship in Ukraine” and “Why Ukraine will only get worse.”
Likewise, Twitter banned over a dozen accounts tied to those websites that were promoting a new propaganda site called Ukraine Today, the company said.
“On Feb. 27, we permanently suspended more than a dozen accounts and blocked sharing of several links in violation of our platform manipulation and spam policy. Our investigation is ongoing; however, our initial findings indicate that the accounts and links originated in Russia and were attempting to disrupt the public conversation around the ongoing conflict in Ukraine,” read a statement from a Twitter spokesperson.
The Belarusian group, identified by Facebook as a hacking group called Ghostwriter, hacked the accounts of journalists, local public officials and even military personnel in Ukraine, making it appear as though those account-holders were posting a video of what they claimed was a Ukrainian waving a white flag. Ghostwriter is on the payroll of the Belarus government, according to cybersecurity firm Mandiant.