BREAKING: @Facebook took down a small, recently created network linked to “individuals associated with ​past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency.”

Based on a website;
Targeted progressives;
Small % of US election content;
Low impact.
Right from the start, it’s important to note: there’s no indication that this operation went viral. The English-language FB page had about 200 followers. The Twitter account had about 3,000, and was following more than that.

Keep calm.
The operation was based around a website, peacedata[.]net. This is its About page. Armed conflicts, corruption, abuse of power, human rights, but… notice something about those profile pictures?
First clue that this is not what it seems: they look like they were generated by AI.

The operation had at least six personas with the same sort of profile pic. Blurred backgrounds, asymmetric glasses, and all the eyes align.
Telling detail: check out the connection between the frames and the arms on the glasses these two wore.
So what were these fake “editors” editing? The PeaceData website posted in English and Arabic.

From mid-December, it republished other people’s articles in English.
From about mid-March, it began running its own articles.
From April, it published in Arabic too.
What kind of content? Its articles in English and Arabic criticized capitalism, racism and Western interventions, and also other targets, like French influence in Africa, the Turkish government, Israel, and the Saudi campaign in Yemen.
Helpfully, the website categorised the stories by theme: here’s the breakdown by language.
The articles mentioned a wide range of countries, but by far the most mentions were of the U.S. - though a lot of these were in relation to other countries.

Only about 5% of the articles in English dealt primarily with the US election, candidates or campaigns.
What audience was it targeting?

A progressive one. This is a list of all the Facebook groups that one of the fake accounts, “Alex Lacusta,” posted to.

Democratic Socialists… The Progessive Party… DemExit…
Here's an example. The same article to three different groups, a few minutes apart.
Like I said, only about 5% of the articles were about the U.S. election. They looked designed to appeal to a progressive audience - and to the extent that they talked about Biden or Harris, they were hostile.
(They pushed this article relatively hard. Six shares to different groups just a few minutes.)
Interestingly, there was a similar pattern in the writing about the UK: articles that the website published were anti-Tory, but also anti-Keir Starmer.

"Must stop steering right."
The site published about COVID-19, too. In many different contexts, but mostly ones that fit into its overarching narratives.
How did the website get its content?

Well, in the early days (December 2019 through March), it copied from other sources. A good way to build a portfolio and persona without having to write it yourself.
But the operation tried to hire freelance writers from across the English-speaking world. Here it is on UpWork, offering $75 per article…
... on Guru[.]com...
… and on Twitter. (From the cache.)
Facebook attributed this to people linked to the IRA. The themes and the way it co-opted external writers fit earlier patterns. The use of AI-generated faces is new for this operation, though we've seen it enough times in other ones not linked to Russia.
You can follow @benimmo.
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