Meta is reporting that it has removed a network of over 1,000 inauthentic Facebook and Instagram accounts operated by a Russian troll farm called “Cyber Front Z,” saying it used these accounts “to create a perception of grassroots online support for Russia’s invasion.” According to Meta’s Adversarial Threat Report:
August 4, 2022 We took down a network of Instagram accounts operated by a troll farm in St. Petersburg, Russia, which targeted global public discourse about the war in Ukraine. This appeared to be a poorly executed attempt, publicly coordinated via a Telegram channel, to create a perception of grassroots online support for Russia’s invasion by using fake accounts to post pro-Russia comments on content by influencers and media. We detected this activity and began taking action in March, right after reviewing public reporting by the Russian outlet Fontanka. They exposed a physical troll farm operated out of an office building in St. Petersburg, only 10 days after it had advertised job postings for “spammers, commenters, content analysts, designers and programmers” focused on YouTube, Telegram and TikTok. We took down the network in early April, once we completed our investigation, and have continued to detect and disable its attempts to come back. We linked this activity to a self-proclaimed entity called “Cyber Front Z,” and to individuals associated with past activity by the Internet Research Agency (IRA). Cyber Front Z is now banned from our platforms. Our investigation found attempts at driving comments to people’s content on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, VKontakte and Odnoklassniki. It appears that hired “trolls” worked in shifts seven days a week, with a daily brief break for lunch.
Read the full report here.
Meta says it took down 45 Facebook and 1,027 Instagram accounts linked to Cyber Front Z. These accounts amassed more than 49,000 followers and spent $1,400 for ads on Facebook and Telegram, paid in Rubles.
The Global Influence Operations Report first reported on Cyber Front Z in April, noting that the troll farm consists of a public-facing Telegram channel where volunteers are directed to post disinformation under their own names and a private, professional troll army paid to post similar disinformation using fake identities. While at the time of the reporting, the Cyber Front Z Telegram channel had more than 87,000 followers, it has grown to almost 110,000 subscribers in recent months. The GIOR also reported that the group had targeted some of the world’s biggest electronic musicians, commenting pro-Russian statements on the social media accounts of Daft Punk or David Guetta.
According to a report by the Guardian, Cyber Front Z is suspected of links to Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Internet Research Agency accused of meddling in the 2016 election that saw Donald Trump win the presidency. The same report says the Telegram channel “Cyber Front Z” has played a key role in the network.