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Report Identifies Key Pro-Putin Accounts on Facebook Generating Millions of Posts across the Platform

May 18th, 2022 14:04

The Insti­tute for Strate­gic Dia­logue (ISD), an inter­na­tion­al think tank, has recent­ly pub­lished a report iden­ti­fy­ing key pro-Putin Face­book accounts engaged in admin­is­ter­ing, mod­er­at­ing, and con­tribut­ing to large pub­lic Face­book groups with hun­dreds of thou­sands of mem­bers and gen­er­at­ing mil­lions of posts across the plat­form. Accord­ing to the ISD report:

April 4, 2022 ISD research con­duct­ed on Face­book from Feb­ru­ary through March 2022 indi­cates a net­work of pro- Putin dupli­cate accounts, pro-Putin groups, and pro- Krem­lin pages, are astro­turf­ing Putin and Krem­lin sup­port across the plat­form. In the wake of the Russ­ian inva­sion of Ukraine, these net­works, which have been on the plat­form for years, are increas­ing their con­tent pro­duc­tion, and pri­mar­i­ly focus on a defen­sive pro­pa­gan­da strat­e­gy that paints Putin as an “eth­i­cal leader” and a “hero” for stand­ing up to West­ern aggres­sion. Using the Face­book social mon­i­tor­ing tool Crowd­Tan­gle, ISD researchers assessed the impact of the con­tent shared by the pro-Putin pow­er users, groups and pages that are a part of a loose­ly coor­di­nat­ed, seem­ing­ly inau­then­tic net­work. ISD researchers iden­ti­fied 10 pro-Putin groups with a col­lec­tive mem­ber­ship of 652,582 on Face­book shar­ing ador­ing Putin pho­tos and videos in Eng­lish, Russ­ian, Far­si, Ara­bic and Khmer. […] The admin­is­tra­tors, mod­er­a­tors, and key con­trib­u­tors of the top 10 pro-Putin pub­lic groups on Face­book are stacked with pro-Putin pow­er users with dupli­cate accounts, all of which are engaged in seed­ing and shar­ing pro-Putin con­tent across the plat­form. […] The top pow­er users have shared thou­sands of pho­tographs and videos of Putin in pro-Putin groups, where they func­tion as admin­is­tra­tors, mod­er­a­tors, and top con­trib­u­tors. […] The top 10 users are con­nect­ed through their friends’ net­works to oth­er pow­er users with dupli­cate accounts, also spread­ing pro-Krem­lin and pro-Putin con­tent across Face­book. […] Six pro-Krem­lin Face­book pages with more than 500,000 fol­low­ers were sim­i­lar­ly func­tion­ing as mod­er­a­tors and admin­is­tra­tors of the same pro-Putin groups mod­er­at­ed by pro-Putin pow­er users.

Read the full report here.

The report notes that as the Ukraine war con­tin­ues and Russ­ian sup­port for the con­flict wanes, these key pro-Putin users will play an “increas­ing­ly impor­tant role in astro­turf­ing sup­port across lan­guages and regions, mask­ing any decline in support.”

In Feb­ru­ary, the Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report report­ed that Face­book had tak­en down 40 pro­files tied to a Russian/Belarusian dis­in­for­ma­tion oper­a­tion, say­ing the pro­files were a small part of a larg­er per­sona-build­ing oper­a­tion that spread across Twit­ter, Insta­gram, Telegram, and Russ­ian social networks.

In April 2021, we report­ed on an inter­view of an employ­ee of a “post-Sovi­et troll farm.” The inter­vie­wee described how the trolls used Telegram and oth­er social media plat­forms as part of the over­all crack­down on dis­sent, pre­sum­ably in Russia.