Pro-Western, anti-China influence ops taken down by Facebook and Twitter

SINGAPORE: Tech giants Twitter and Meta in recent weeks removed social media accounts promoting pro-Western narratives that supported the United States and its allies while opposing countries like China and Russia, according to a report released on Wednesday (Aug 24). 

The joint study by the Stanford Internet Observatory – a programme at Stanford University studying the abuse of the Internet – and social media analytics firm Graphika points to the first time covert pro-Western influence operations have been identified and taken down on social media.

“With few exceptions, the study of modern influence operations has overwhelmingly focused on activity linked to authoritarian regimes in countries such as Russia, China, and Iran, with recent growth in research on the integral role played by private entities,” the report stated. 

Data provided by Twitter and Facebook parent firm Meta to the researchers showed a series of covert campaigns that ran over a period of almost five years on various social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. 

An “interconnected web” of accounts on those platforms used deceptive tactics to promote pro-Western narratives in the Middle East and Central Asia. 

Twitter listed the campaigns’ “presumptive countries of origin” as the US and Great Britain, while Meta said the “country of origin” was the US. 

Both firms did not share technical details of their investigations, and did not publicly attribute the activity to any entity or organisation. 

‘HEAVILY CRITICISED’ RUSSIA

In July and August, Twitter and Meta removed two “overlapping” sets of accounts for violating their platforms’ terms of service. 

Twitter said the accounts violated their policies on “platform manipulation and spam”, while Meta said the accounts engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. 

After the accounts were taken down, both companies provided “portions of the activities” to Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory for further analysis.

Twitter provided data which covered more than 299,000 tweets by 146 accounts between March 2012 and February this year, showing activity linked to covert campaigns of unclear origins.

These covert campaigns were also represented in a Meta dataset of 39 Facebook profiles, 16 pages and two groups; as well as 26 Instagram accounts active from 2017 to July this year.