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EXPOSED: The most extensive case of covert pro-Western information operation on social media

Declassified Australia exposes and analyses a massive secret propaganda operation being run out of the US, that has been buried by Western media.

by Peter Cronau
 
Part 2 - The massive Twitter-Meta dataset
 
The data analysed by Stanford-Graphika came after Twitter and Meta/Facebook in July and August 2022 removed two overlapping sets of fake accounts for violating their terms of service. The datasets appear to cover a series of covert campaigns over a period of almost five years rather than one homogeneous operation.

The Twitter dataset covered 299,566 tweets by 146 accounts, while the Meta dataset focussed on 39 Facebook profiles and 26 Instagram accounts. Twitter said the accounts breached its policies on ‘platform manipulation and spam,’ while Meta said the assets on its platforms engaged in ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior’.

The Stanford-Graphika report at one point tended to hose down the reach and influence of the fake accounts: ‘The vast majority of [the hundreds of thousands of] posts and tweets we reviewed, received no more than a handful of likes or retweets, and only 19 percent of the covert assets we identified had more than 1,000 followers.

While this may give critics of the report a thread to cling to, hundreds of fake accounts with thousands of followers is certainly substantial. Elsewhere in the report, the operation is described as ‘the most extensive case of covert pro-Western IO [Information Operation] on social media to be reviewed and analysed by open-source researchers to date’.

The researchers did not identify which US entities were running the program, however did note that: ‘The accounts sometimes shared news articles from US government-funded media outlets, such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and links to websites sponsored by the US military.

Amongst the data analysed, two distinct disinformation campaigns were identified. One is a previously exposed disinformation campaign run by the Pentagon, while the second comprises a previously unknown series of covert operations of unspecified origin. 

The Stanford-Graphika researchers found in the datasets one campaign to be ‘linked to an overt US government messaging campaign called the Trans-Regional Web Initiative’. The first evidence of this program came from Washington-based thinktank, the Stimson Center, in 2012 – their report is now off-line but is archived here.

This ‘Web Initiative’ influence program has been run by the US military’s elite Special Operations Command (SOCOM) during the 2010s, deploying dozens of Military Information Support Operations (MISO) teams on psychological operations around the world at the request of military commanders in the field, and ambassadors in a range of US embassies.

SOCOM had contracted some of its development work on the multimillion dollar disinformation operation to the Rendon Group, a CIA-linked contractor notorious for influencing public opinion and Western media before the start of the Iraq War in 2003.

SOCOM’s influence operation included preparing websites that offer news, cultural reports, sports and other programming to ‘target audiences’, such as Southeast Europe Times and Central Asia Online. The websites ‘have the strong appearance of civilian journalism’ and seek ‘to express the United States and its operations in a positive light’.

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