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Fake social media accounts aimed at Ukraine, says Meta

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Facebook -- whose parent company has been renamed Meta -- has been battling regulatory issues, negative headlines around bullying and disinformation


Facebook — whose parent company has been renamed Meta — has been battling regulatory issues, negative headlines around bullying and disinformation – Copyright AFP/File Chris DELMAS

Pro-Russia groups are orchestrating misinformation campaigns on social media, using fake profiles or hacked accounts to paint Ukraine as a feeble pawn of Western duplicity, Meta said Sunday.

The cyber security team at the tech giant — parent of Facebook and Instagram — said it blocked a set of Russia-linked fake accounts that were part of a social media scheme to undermine Ukraine.

“They ran websites posing as independent news entities and created fake personas across social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and also Russian Odnoklassniki and VK,” Meta said in a blog post.

In some cases, “they used profile pictures that we believe were likely generated using artificial intelligence techniques.”

The small network of Facebook and Instagram accounts targeted people in Ukraine, using posts to try to get people to visit websites featuring bogus news about the country’s effort to defend itself from the invasion by Russia.

Meta said it connected the network to people in Russia and Ukraine, as well as media organizations NewsFront and SouthFront in Crimea.

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The US has identified NewsFront and SouthFront as disinformation outlets that get marching orders from Russian intelligence services.

The organizations were among more than a dozen entities sanctioned by Washington for trying to influence the 2020 US presidential election “at the direction of the leadership of the Russian Government.”

Meta shut down the bogus accounts and blocked sharing of internet addresses involved in the deception, director of threat disruption David Agranovich said in a briefing.

Bogus claims published by the sites include that the West had betrayed Ukraine and that Ukraine is a failed state, according to Agranovich.

– ‘Ghostwriter’ –

Meanwhile, a hacking group called Ghostwriter believed to operate out of Russia has ramped up action against military figures and journalists in Ukraine in recent days, according to Meta’s security team.

Ghostwriter’s typical tactic is to target victims with “phishing” emails that trick them into clicking on deceptive links in an effort to steal log-in credentials.

The goal of compromising Facebook accounts appeared to be to spread links to misinformation, such as a YouTube video falsely contending to be of Ukrainian soldiers surrendering to Russian troops, according to Meta.

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“We’ve taken steps to secure accounts that we believe were targeted by this threat actor,” said Meta head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher.

“We also blocked phishing domains these hackers used to try to trick people in Ukraine into compromising their online accounts.”

Facebook on Friday restricted Russian state media’s ability to earn money on the social media platform as Moscow’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine reached the streets of Kyiv.

Gleicher said that Meta had yet to see any throttling of Facebook in Russia, despite the country threatening to hit it with restrictions after it refused to stop using fact-checkers and content warning labels on state media posts.

Social media networks have become one of the fronts in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, home to sometimes misleading information but also real-time monitoring of a quickly developing conflict that marks Europe’s biggest geopolitical crisis in decades.



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UK eyes big TikTok fine over child privacy lapse

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Image: – © AFP Kazuhiro NOGI

Britain on Monday warned it could fine TikTok £27 million ($29 million) over a potential failure to protect children’s privacy on the Chinese-owned video app.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said the social media company “may have processed the data of children under the age of 13 without appropriate parental consent”.

The ICO also found that the short-form video platform may have “failed to provide proper information to its users in a concise, transparent and easily understood way”.

The watchdog has served the group with a notice of intent — which is a legal document that precedes a possible fine — over the possible breach of UK data protection law.

“We all want children to be able to learn and experience the digital world, but with proper data privacy protections,” said Information Commissioner John Edwards.

“Companies providing digital services have a legal duty to put those protections in place, but our provisional view is that TikTok fell short of meeting that requirement.”

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In response, TikTok said it disagreed with the ICO’s provisional views and stressed that no final conclusions had been reached.

“While we respect the ICO’s role in safeguarding privacy in the UK, we disagree with the preliminary views expressed and intend to formally respond to the ICO in due course,” TikTok said in a statement.

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