Meta Platforms on Tuesday said it took down a network of accounts and pages across Facebook and Instagram that were operated by people associated with the U.S. military to spread narratives that depicted the country in a favorable light in the Middle East and Central Asia.
The network, which originated from the U.S., primarily singled out Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Somalia, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.
The social media giant stated the individuals behind the activity impersonated the communities they targeted, propagating content in Arabic, Farsi, and Russian that floated themes of increased military cooperation with the U.S., and criticized Iran, China, and Russia.
These narratives spanned “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s treatment of the Uyghur people, Iran’s influence in the Middle East, and the support of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan by Russia and China,” Meta said in its Quarterly Adversarial Threat Report.
Content related to the COVID-19 pandemic was also posted, some of which were taken down for violating its misinformation policy, the company added.
The bogus accounts also used profile photos possibly created using machine learning techniques like generative adversarial networks (GANs) and posted during Eastern Standard Time (EST) rather than during working hours in the targeted nations.
As many as 39 Facebook accounts, 16 Pages, two Groups, and 26 accounts on Instagram were found engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior. The operation further extended to other platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Telegram, VKontakte, and Odnoklassniki.
As for the reach, Meta found that about 22,000 accounts followed one or more of these pages, about 400 joined at least one of the Groups, and around 12,000 accounts followed one or more of the Instagram accounts. Roughly $2,500 was spent for ads on Facebook, paid in both U.S. dollars and British pounds.
However, the efforts appear to have been largely unsuccessful. “The majority of this operation’s posts had little to no engagement from authentic communities,” Meta said.
Details about the campaign first came to light earlier this August when researchers from Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory uncovered the use of multiple social media services to promote pro-Western narratives.
“These campaigns consistently advanced narratives promoting the interests of the United States and its allies while opposing countries including Russia, China, and Iran,” the Stanford Internet Observatory noted, calling it the “most extensive case of covert pro-Western influence operations on social media.”
The disclosure comes nearly two months after Meta dismantled two separate clusters from China and Russia for running information operations that sought to manipulate public discourse on the platforms.