Facebook takes down Russian network impersonating European news outlets

Facebook parent Meta says it has disrupted a large Russian network of fake accounts impersonating European news outlets to push a pro-Kremlin view of the war in Ukraine.

Separately, the social media giant says it also took down a network originating in China targeting the U.S. midterm elections and criticizing the Czech government.

While the campaigns were not connected, the dual takedowns underscore how social media platforms continue to be ripe targets for efforts to shape the narratives around high-profile events, said Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead.

“There’s a shooting war going on in Ukraine, there are elections coming up in the U.S.,” he said. “And we’re seeing influence operations that are talking about those things.”

Russia campaign targeted European support for Ukraine

Meta said the Russian operation was the largest and most complex it has disrupted since President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February.

“You can actually sum up everything it was saying in ten words: ‘Ukraine’s bad. Russia’s good. Stop the sanctions. Stop supplying weapons,'” Nimmo said.

It involved more than 60 websites pretending to be legitimate, high-profile European news organizations, including the U.K.’s The Guardian and Daily Mail, Germany’s Der Spiegel and Bild, and Italian news agency ANSA.

The spoofed websites were built with care, Nimmo said, under the apparent theory that imitating a big brand would draw a big audience. They copied the layouts of outlets’ real sites and imitated their web addresses. In some cases they used bylines and photos of real journalists and included working links to other news articles.

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