US military behind online influence campaign targeting Central Asia and Middle East

People associated with the US military created fake accounts on more than seven Internet services as part of a “coordinated inauthentic” influence operation targeting people in Central Asia and the Middle East, according to Facebook parent Meta, Instagram and WhatsApp. in his report this week.

Although the people behind the operation “attempted to hide their identities and coordination,” Meta said, their investigation “found links to people associated with the US military.”

The US Department of Defense had not yet responded to a VOA request for comment as of Wednesday night.

However, the Department of Defense told BBC News that it was “aware of the report released by Meta”.

“At this time, we have no further comment on the report or possible actions the department may take as a result of the report,” he told the BBC.

Meta’s report adds further credence to the theory that the US military was behind the operation, first reported in August by researchers at Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory.

The August report shed light on what was believed to be the first time that Facebook and Twitter reported a pro-US operation using methods, including fake personas and coordinated memes, that countries like Russia and Iran employ to seed misinformation in the US and elsewhere.

In its report, Meta said it had removed 39 Facebook and 26 Instagram accounts that were part of a coordinated campaign focused on countries including Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Somalia, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Yemen. The campaign operated not only on Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, but also on YouTube, Telegram, Russia’s social networking site VKontakte, and Odnoklassniki, a Russian-based social networking site used in former Soviet states.

The fake accounts, which posted on topics such as sports or culture, emphasized cooperation with the United States and criticized Iran, China and Russia, Meta said. The posts, made primarily during US East Coast business hours, were primarily in Arabic, Farsi, and Russian. They praised the US military and included COVID-19 content, which Meta removed for “violating our disinformation policy.”

Facebook’s automated system detected and disabled some of the posts, the firm said. The overall impact of the campaign did not appear to be captured in local communities. “Most of the posts from this operation had little to no involvement from authentic communities,” Meta said.

Following initial revelations about the operation, the Pentagon launched a review of its clandestine psychological operations, according to the washington post.

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