Facebook claimed it disbanded a tiny network of accounts, pages, and trolls that are part of a Russian influence operation.
Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) is allegedly involved with the operation. It’s an institution loyal to the Russian government and suspected of involvement in the 2016 US election.
Twitter also removed five accounts from the same network.
The project focused around PeaceData. It said to be an English and Arabic non-profit news website.
Facebook and Twitter also said they had seen only little traction in the program.
Details of the finding came just two months before the US presidential race between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
What was the campaign?
Both the social media websites coordinated with the FBI’s Global Influence Task Force on the PeaceData website, targeting a left-leaning crowd.
According to Facebook, 13 accounts and two pages had been deleted, which aimed to “harm public discourse in the US” and other countries, including the UK and Egypt.
Still, it said the campaign had gained “very little impact.” It only had 14,000 users following one or two of the pages it had withdrawn. The English-speaking group had about 200 fans.
The deleted accounts, it said, used false names and profile pictures on Facebook. But it appeared that real and “unwitting” freelance writers had written for the PeaceData website.
Twitter, meanwhile, said it had deleted five accounts that “we can accurately link to Russian State actors for web abuse.”
It added that the accounts created “low quality and spammy” content. Most Tweets from these accounts also earned a few Likes or Retweets, if any.
‘Legit’ reporters, editors?
Peace Data previously recruited journalists on Guru’s website for this kind of freelance networking. Obviously, it did not discuss any link with the Russian government. However, the post made a clear demand for writers capable of writing specific contentious topics. These include imperialism, anti-war, power exploitation, even abuses of human rights, among others alike.
While some of the freelance journalists from Peace Data are actual reporters, some of their recognized “editors” are only algorithmically created. One user ‘Alex Lacusta’ attempted to post stories on Facebook and Twitter from the site of a few left-leaning parties. According to Lee Foster, the senior information operations manager for Mandiant, a cybersecurity firm that also monitored the website.
What about the rate?
One writer who wrote multiple posts exclusively for this website said he was unaware that Russians backed the entire website. He continued that throwing aside this paying job during this time as many journalists are trying to find employment.
They had messaged him on Twitter. According to the journalist, the employer offered him $200 per post. He explained that he had lost his job during COVID-19. He added he struggled to try to earn enough money to pay for rent.
What we know about Russian’s IRA
The IRA is also one of three Russian firms and 13 individuals prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department as part of the probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into suspected Russian involvement in the US election campaign in 2016.
The former FBI director spent two years probing possible collaboration between the 2016 Trump and Russia campaigns.
He concluded that Russia had interfered in the election to benefit Mr. Trump’s campaign. However, he did not find any evidence of a conspiracy.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said earlier this year that Russian efforts to disseminate misinformation on social media had “never ceased.”