World Insights: Research exposes pro-Western social media campaign manipulated by U.S. gov't

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, September 10, 2022
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 9 (Xinhua) -- Research released recently has exposed years-long covert influence operations for promoting pro-Western narratives on social media platforms, with the role of the U.S. government under scrutiny.

These campaigns "consistently advanced narratives promoting the interests of the United States and its allies" while opposing several other countries, according to the summary of a joint investigation conducted by Stanford University and Graphika, a social media analytics firm.

In July and August 2022, Twitter and Meta -- the parent company of Facebook and Instagram -- removed two overlapping sets of accounts for violating their platforms' terms of service.

Twitter said the accounts fell foul of its policies on "platform manipulation and spam," while Meta said the assets on its platforms engaged in "coordinated inauthentic behavior."

After taking down the assets, both platforms provided portions of the activity to Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) for further analysis.

The investigation revealed an interconnected web of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and five other social media platforms that "used deceptive tactics to promote pro-Western narratives in the Middle East and Central Asia."

The findings showed that the platforms' data sets appeared to "cover a series of covert campaigns over a period of almost five years rather than one homogeneous operation."

The accounts deployed in the campaign were said to have sometimes shared news articles from U.S. government-funded media outlets, such as Voice of America and its sister organization, Radio Free Europe, as well as links to websites sponsored by the U.S. military.

Neither Twitter nor Meta has publicly attributed the activity to any entity or organization: Twitter listed the activity's "presumptive countries of origin" as the United States and Britain, while Meta said the "country of origin" was the United States.

Twitter's data set provided to the SIO and Graphika covered nearly 300,000 tweets by 146 accounts between March 2012 and February 2022. These accounts included a behaviorally distinct activity set linked to the Trans-Regional Web Initiative, an overt U.S. government messaging campaign.

The SIO-Graphika research also showed the assets identified by Twitter and Meta created fake personas, posed as independent media outlets, leveraged memes and short-form videos, attempted to start hashtag campaigns, and launched online petitions.

Specifically, the Central Asia group consisted of 12 Twitter accounts, 10 Facebook pages, 15 Facebook profiles, and 10 Instagram accounts, engaging in connected activity on Telegram, YouTube, and Russian social media platforms VKontakte and Odnoklassniki.

Assets in this group "heavily promoted narratives supportive of the U.S. on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Telegram," the investigation found.

These posts "primarily focused on U.S. support for Central Asian countries and their people, presenting Washington as a reliable economic partner that would curb the region's dependence on Russia," it said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters late last month that they would need to "take a look at information that Facebook or Twitter may have."

"More broadly speaking, the United States military, you know, as a matter of policy and operations, we do conduct military information support to operations around the world," he said. "Obviously, I'm not going to talk about ongoing operations or particular tactics, techniques, and procedures, other than to say that we operate within prescribed policy."

The Guardian reported in as early as 2011 that the U.S. military was developing software that would let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda. Enditem

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