Researchers caught a pro-US campaign spreading propaganda on social media
Surprise, surprise, we're meddling right back
While countries like Russia and China have been making headlines for years with their disinformation and propaganda campaigns on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, it turns out that the US and other Western countries may have been playing the same game. A recent report (pdf) from social network analysis firm Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory has uncovered a series of operations, some covert and some less so, that aimed to "promote pro-Western narratives" in countries like Russia, China, Afghanistan, and Iran (via Gizmodo).
According to the report, Twitter and Meta removed a group of accounts from their platforms earlier this month, citing their platform manipulation and coordinated inauthentic behavior rules. Analyzing the accounts' activity, researchers found that the accounts have been carrying out campaigns to criticize or support foreign governments (sometimes the same governments, in what feels like an attempt to sow division) and offer takes on culture and politics for years. The report says this was sometimes done by sharing links to news sites backed by the US government and military.
"The sock puppet accounts were kind of funny to look at because we are so used to analyzing pro-Kremlin sock puppets, so it was weird to see accounts pushing the opposite narrative," she said. "The narratives [in pro-Kremlin influence ops] are often like 'the Americans are killing civilians in Syria' but here the narrative was 'Russia is killing civilians in Syria.' It was the same narrative but just switching the proper nouns around."
As I have so often written, the accusations mirrors their own -US/UK- acts of horror and terror #Iraq #Libys #Syria #Ukraine
AI Build In The Mirror of Mensch
Meta, Twitter took down accounts engaging in pro-U.S. covert influence campaigns | The Record - Aug. 24, 2022 |
Meta and Twitter have taken down accounts in recent weeks connected to a years-long, pro-Western covert influence network originating in the U.S. that targeted the Middle East and Central Asia, according to a new report from the Stanford Internet Observatory and data analysis firm Graphika: UNHEARD VOICE -- Evaluating five years of pro-Western covert influence operations.
The social media firms determined in July and August that the accounts engaged in coordinated inauthentic or spam behavior that violated their policies, then shared data about the accounts with the researchers. The Stanford and Graphika report tracks networks of online activity from that data across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and five other online platforms.
Rather than one single campaign, the data provided by the companies showed a series of overlapping efforts that used deceptive tactics, including computer generated profile images and fake news outlets, to promote an agenda aligned with Western policy priorities and opposing Iran, China and Russia.
"The accounts heavily criticized Russia in particular for the deaths of innocent civilians and other atrocities its soldiers committed in pursuit of the Kremlin's `imperial ambitions' following its invasion of Ukraine in February this year," according to the report.
"To promote this and other narratives, the accounts sometimes shared news articles from U.S. government-funded media outlets, such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and links to websites sponsored by the U.S. military," researchers added.
Data shared by Meta identified the accounts as originating in the U.S., and Twitter said the "presumptive country of origin" of accounts was Great Britain and the U.S., although neither attributed the campaign to a specific actor, according to the report.
Twitter shared nearly 300,000 tweets from 146 accounts sent between March 2012 and February 2022 with the researchers, who found the data could be divided into two categories: those associated with a known U.S. influence operation called the Trans-Regional Web Initiative, and others -- which the report focused on -- that represented a "series of covert campaigns of unclear origin." There were 74 Twitter accounts associated with the latter group, according to Stanford Internet Observatory research scholar Shelby Grossman.
During the Cold War, the State Department did a great deal of work on what it calls public diplomacy, i.e. creating cultural, political and news material to get other countries to understand (or better yet, like) the United States and its policies. Since 9/11, the U.S. military has also made a big push into this area as well under the framework of "strategic communication." Special Operations Command in particular has been active, and is now looking for a contractor to develop websites to "influence foreign audiences per Government-approved Concepts of Operations (CONOPs), conceptual approaches and previously approved prototypes."
The Trans-Regional Web Initiative will include six websites in various languages, according to the solicitation, and the contractor will be responsible for establishing a "network of native/indigenous content contributors with backgrounds in politics, academics, security, culture, entertainment, and other aspects of the GWOT, which appeal to identified foreign target audiences."
Those covert campaigns were also present in data from Meta, which included 26 Instagram accounts as well as 39 Facebook profiles, 16 pages and two groups active between 2017 and July 2022, according to the research.
Propagandastan | Foreign Policy - 22 Nov 2011 |
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan - When people read a news website, they don't usually imagine that it is being run by a major producer of fighter jets and smart bombs. But when the Pentagon has its own vision of America's foreign policy, and the funds to promote it, it can put a $23 billion defense contractor in a unique position to report on the war on terror.
Over the past three years, a subdivision of Virginia-based General Dynamics has set up and run a network of eight "influence websites" funded by the Defense Department with more than $120 million in taxpayer money. The sites, collectively known as the Trans Regional Web Initiative (TRWI) [taken down by DoD in 2014 - Oui] and operated by General Dynamics Information Technology, focus on geographic areas under the purview of various U.S. combatant commands, including U.S. Central Command. In its coverage of Uzbekistan, a repressive dictatorship increasingly important to U.S. military goals in Afghanistan, a TRWI website called Central Asia Online has shown a disturbing tendency to downplay the autocracy's rights abuses and uncritically promote its claims of terrorist threats.
Gas-rich Uzbekistan, the most populous of the formerly Soviet Central Asian republics, has been ruled since before independence in 1991 by strongman President Islam Karimov, who is regularly condemned in the West for running one of the world's most repressive and corrupt regimes. Freedom House gives Uzbekistan the lowest possible score in its Freedom in the World report, while watchdog groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported on widespread torture and forced child labor.
Democracies and the Power of Propaganda
Professor Jeffrey Sachs, who has served as adviser to three UN Secretaries-General and currently serves as an advocate of the UN Sustainable Development Goals for Secretary-General António Guterres, has written a powerful condemnation of American foreign policy in an article entitled The West's False Narrative About Russia and China (othernews.info, 22 August 2022).
Before proceeding with the details of his argument, it is worthwhile to focus in on his accusation of American manipulation of public opinion, in light of astonishing new revelations about a five-year American "influence" campaign reported by both Al Jazeera and the Washington Post.
The Al Jazeera article, Meta, Twitter bust `deceptive' pro-US influence campaign: report (Aljazeera.com, 25 August 2022),
includes the sub-head: Fake accounts promoted pro-Western narratives while trying to discredit China, Russia and Iran, researchers say.
Al Jazeera notes:
The tactics outlined in the report resemble many of the same strategies that US officials have accused Russia and China of using to sow divisions and discord in their country.
The paywalled Washington Post account of the report, by Naomi Nix, published on 24 August 2022 states that Accounts promoting U.S. government messages violated the platforms' rules against coordinated inauthentic behavior.
Nix also noted:
This crackdown [by Facebook and Twitter] is the rare instance in which a U.S.-sponsored campaign targeting foreign audiences was found to violate the companies' rules.
This lax approach stands in sharp contrast to actions taken against Russia since its invasion of Ukraine, with social media apps Facebook, Instagram and YouTube having banned Russian state media accounts, restricted advertising and bolstered their fact-checking operations during the war.
Back to Jeffrey Sachs and the false western security narrative
But the point being made by Jeffrey Sachs is that the false western security narrative goes far beyond specific influence campaigns on social media and, indeed, is embedded in US national security strategy. He writes:
The core US idea is that China and Russia are implacable foes that are "attempting to erode American security and prosperity."
These countries are, according to the US, "determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence."
Earlier writings on topic ...
UK propaganda was published under the misnomer "Statecraft".
Counterinsurgency Cyberwarfare NATO vs. Russia - Part 3 | January 2018 |
War, Militarisation and British Democracy | By Paul Dixon |
'Progressives' Drinking Neocon Kool-Aid