Meta cracks down on Covid claims as it removes disinformation networks

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Meta has shared a new report detailing the removal of six disinformation networks from its platforms Facebook and Instagram this year.

The Adversarial Threat Report details the networks the social media company took down, the tactics used and potential links to real-world organisations, which include Hamas, the Belarusian KGB, and a Chinese information security firm.

Meta said the global threats it faces have significantly evolved since it first shared findings of coordinated inauthentic behaviour in 2017. This is when “groups of pages or people work together to mislead others about who they are or what they’re doing,” according to Meta’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher.

Four networks were taken down for this behaviour in recent months, originating from China, Palestine, Poland and Belarus.

The company removed 524 Facebook accounts as well as pages and groups linked to a Chinese network that was targeting English-speaking audiences in the US and UK, and Chinese-speaking audiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet, with Covid-19 disinformation.

These accounts promoted claims of a fake Swiss biologist who alleged that the US was interfering with the search for the origins of Covid-19 and trying to place the blame on China. These comments were then reported on by Chinese state media.

Meta said the Facebook account where the claims originated was fake and “almost the entire initial spread” of the story on its platform was inauthentic. The company described it as a “multi-pronged, largely unsuccessful influence operation that originated in China”, with links to employees of information security firm Sichuan Silence Information Technology and “individuals associated with Chinese state infrastructure companies based around the world”.

Rise of adversarial networks

Social media platforms have been dealing with the rise of these types of networks for years. Last year, Facebook worked with the FBI to remove 13 Russia-linked accounts targeting US users.

Meta said in its latest report that it is removing networks for coordinated inauthentic behaviour and two new protocols: brigading and mass reporting.

Brigading is when a group works together to mass comment and mass post in order to harass others or silence them. A network of accounts in France and Italy were removed for this behaviour as they targeted journalists, medical professionals and elected officials.

Meta said these accounts were linked to an anti-vaccination conspiracy movement called V_V, publicly reported to engage in violent online and offline behaviours. While all V_V content has not been banned, the company will continue to monitor the situation.

Mass reporting is when people work together to falsely report an account or content in order to get it taken down. A network was removed in Vietnam for this activity, targeting activists and others who criticised the Vietnamese government. This led to thousands of complaints against these targets, according to Meta’s report.

The company is building a platform for researchers to access data about malicious networks and compare tactics globally, and claims to have shared information about more than 150 networks it has taken down since 2018.

“We hope that being able to study these disrupted operations in the way that closely resembles how they appeared live would help educate people on how to spot these deceptive campaigns, including signs of coordination and inauthenticity,” the report concluded.

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