Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Twitter have dismantled an operation that pushed US foreign policies abroad from their networks.

Researchers from the Stanford Internet Observatory and the research company Graphika have revealed their findings from a study into the activities of the social media giants.

It is a rare case when a covert influence operation promoting US interests in other countries had been detected and removed from social media sites.

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The campaigns ran for nearly five years on eight social networks and messaging apps.

It has pushed US beliefs, ideals, and goals while criticizing Russia, China, Iran, and other countries.

The accounts behind the operation frequently pretended to be news outlets or took the identities of people who did not exist, uploading content in at least seven languages, including Russian, Arabic, and Urdu.

The posts slammed Russia for engaging in “imperialist wars” in Syria and Africa while hailing American humanitarian efforts in Central Asia and Iraq.

Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, stated that the accounts’ “country of origin” was the United States.

Twitter, on the other hand, stated that the accounts’ “presumptive countries of origin” were the US and Britain.

Renée DiResta, research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory said: “It’s the first time we’ve seen a pro-U.S. foreign influence operation taken down by Twitter and Meta.”

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Over the years, social media platforms have regularly targeted covert influence campaigns originating in Russia and Iran.

This is the first time that a US-sponsored ad targeting overseas audiences has been deemed to breach the firms’ standards.

Researchers have long believed that influence operations supporting foreign interests are functioning, but no explicit efforts have been recorded or researched.

The United States government does not comment on covert operations.

Twitter and Meta, which do not allow users that secretly collaborate to push certain narratives, deleted the accounts in July and August.

The other platforms that were used in the operation were Telegram, Google’s YouTube, and the Russian social media network VKontakte and Odnoklassniki.

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Meta and Twitter alerted the researchers to the pro-US online campaign so that they could evaluate and investigate it.

The studies found that the operation mostly employed memes and fake news items to promote the United States and the West while denigrating Russia, China, and Iran.

The researchers said that the accounts customized their language and messaging to different locations.

The accounts are being removed at a time when social media firms are attempting to crack down on disinformation efforts surrounding Ukraine’s war.

None of the campaigns reached a large audience.

Most of the posts and tweets received a “handful” of likes or retweets, researchers noted, and only 19 percent of the covert accounts that were identified had over 1,000 followers.

Source: The New York Times

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