Russian Disinfo Groups Used AI-Generated Profiles To Target Ukrainians
One of the influence operations pushed anti-Ukraine talking points with the help of computer-generated faces to create fake personas of columnists.
As the Russian 'special military operation' in Ukraine continues, Facebook and Twitter shut down two anti-Ukraine 'covert influence operations' on their respective platforms. One was tied to Russia, while the other was tied to Belarus.
Facebook's parent company Meta told the media that their platform was used to target Ukrainian public figures, including prominent military officials, politicians and a journalist, by a Belarus-based hacking group called Ghostwriter.
The company also said that it had purged a network of around 40 fake accounts, groups and pages across Facebook and Instagram for targeting people in Ukraine.
More than a dozen accounts were also blocked by Twitter, according to a statement given by a company spokesperson, for violating the rules around platform manipulation and spamming.
"On Feb. 27, we permanently suspended more than a dozen accounts and blocked sharing of several links in violation of our platform manipulation and spam policy. Our investigation is ongoing; however, our initial findings indicate that the accounts and links originated in Russia and were attempting to disrupt the public conversation around the ongoing conflict in Ukraine," the spokesperson said in a statement to the media.
The Twitter accounts, which were linked to two Russian propaganda websites SouthFront and NewsFront, were found pushing a new propaganda website called Ukraine Today.
Several YouTube channels, with less than 90 subscribers in total, were also removed by Alphabet Inc, a company spokesperson told the media.
AI Generated Profiles
An investigation carried out by US media outlet NBC News revealed that one of the influence operations pushed anti-Ukraine talking points with the help of computer-generated faces to create fake personas to strengthen the credibility of the narrative.
The use of AI-generated profile pictures also makes it harder for fact-checkers to flag such profiles, as the usual methods of verification, such as the use of reverse image search, would be ineffective in separating the true accounts from the fake ones.
Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy at Meta, told NBC News that the larger operation to be shut down by the company operated out of Russia, along with the Russian-dominated regions of Donbas and Crimea. This was earlier designated by the U.S. government as part of a larger disinformation operation with connections to Russian state intelligence.
Meta further confirmed to NBC News that the new group to be shut down had links to accounts that were previously banned. These accounts were related to two Russian propaganda websites called NewsFront and SouthFront, which were both banned in 2020 by the platform, after they were identified by the US State Department as Russian disinformation outlets.
Creating Pro-Russian Narratives
The disinformation efforts were found to push narratives that either justified Russia's actions, or showed Russia coming out on top in the conflict. They were also found confirming many of the statements made by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
One of them was to undermine the efforts by Ukrainians to resist the invasion.
Gleicher, in his interview to NBC News, added that the operation used profiles of fake journalists to seed stories across the web that the situation is bad for Ukraine.
"These actors are trying to undermine trust in the Ukrainian government, suggest that it's a failed state, suggest that the war is going very poorly in Ukraine or trying to praise Russia."
The propaganda websites featured articles that pushed the narrative that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is building a neo-Nazi army in the country. Putin had earlier mentioned that the 'special military operation' in Ukraine was aimed at denazification of the country.
As of now, the articles can still be accessed on websites like SouthFront, with bylines attributed to fake columnists with computer-generated faces.
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