A fake left-wing news organisation operated by the Russian agency accused of interfering in the US election in 2016 has been uncovered and banned by Facebook.
The fake organisation – which said it was operated by people who didn’t really exist and whose images were artificially generated – was established this May, and was running 13 accounts and two pages which had amassed 14,000 followers.
It was uncovered following a tip-off from the FBI, according to Facebook‘s head of security policy, who said the activity “focused primarily on the US, UK, Algeria and Egypt”.
The fake media organisation called itself Peace Data and targeted left-wing voters in both the UK and US and even recruited “unwitting” freelance journalists from those countries to write articles.
According to social media analytics company Graphika, these articles “paid particular attention to racial and political tensions” which have become a significant point of division following the killing of George Floyd in the US earlier this year.
These articles focused on “social and racial justice in the US and UK, as well as NATO and EU politics, alleged Western war crimes and corruption, environmental issues, the founder of WikiLeaks, tensions between Israel and Palestine, the coronavirus pandemic, criticism of fracking, French influence in Africa, the Biden–Harris campaign, QAnon, President Trump and his policies, and the US military policies in Africa”.
Facebook said the network was in the “early stages of building its audience, primarily on the left of the political spectrum, and saw nearly no engagement on Facebook before we removed it”.
The operation was tied to the Internet Research Agency, a private organisation based in St Petersburg, which has been accused of illegally interfering in US politics alongside 13 of its employees.
Although only 5% of Peace Data’s articles in English directly referenced the US election according to Graphika, “this facet of the operation suggests an attempt to build a left-wing audience and steer it away from Biden’s campaign”.
Facebook’s actions lend support to an assessment by American counterintelligence officials which last month stated that Moscow was attempting to undermine Biden’s campaign.
Ben Nimmo, head of investigations at Graphika, told Reuters that the influence operation made itself harder to detect by employing authentic personas to contribute content to the publication.
“What we’ve seen recently has been much smaller and much lower profile,” he said, comparing the Peace Data operation to the activities during the 2016 election.
“It looks like the’re trying harder and harder to hide,” Mr Nimmo added.