LONDON: Online propaganda campaigns that targeted Middle Eastern countries including Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria were linked to US military, technology firm Meta has claimed.
In its latest adversarial threat report, the company said the network that coordinated the campaigns used fake social media accounts to promote pro-Western narratives and was taken down in August after an independent research group flagged the profiles to Facebook’s parent company.
The findings of the report said: “The US network — linked to individuals associated with the US military — operated across many internet services and focused on Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Somalia, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.”
The social media giant said 39 Facebook accounts, 16 Facebook pages, two groups, and 26 Instagram accounts had been removed for violating its policy on “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” a term used to describe the coordination of accounts and adoption of techniques to publish, promote, and spread false content.
The campaigns, believed to be the first of their kind, were designed to discredit Russia, China, Iran, and other countries, while promoting American views and values.
The tactics adopted by the US network were similar to those used in anti-Western campaigns, such as the use of fake people and the dissemination of artificially generated photos across multiple platforms.
“The people behind this activity posted primarily in Arabic, Farsi, and Russian about news and current events, including terrorism concerns and praise of the US military, as well as content about the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic — some of which we removed for violating our misinformation policy,” the report added.
Although experts believe the campaigns were largely ineffective and their reach was very limited, Meta argued that the operations ran across many internet services, including Twitter, YouTube, Telegram, VKontakte, and Odnoklassniki.
“Although the people behind this operation attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the US military,” Meta said in the report, adding that, “the majority of this operation’s posts had little to no engagement from authentic communities.”
The report appeared to confirm previous speculation made by various media outlets that the US military had been behind the campaigns.
In September, the Pentagon ordered an in-depth inquiry into its overseas social media operations after the White House and other government officials were reported to be growing increasingly concerned about the use of clandestine online warfare and influence operations.
Such covert activities, according to Congress, risked damaging US credibility by evoking the propaganda operations used by authoritarian governments to promote agendas at home and abroad.
The US Department of Defense said it had been, “aware of the report published by Meta, but at this time, we do not have any further comments on the report or potential actions that may be taken by the department as a result of the report.”