Facebook and Twitter suspend Russian propaganda accounts following FBI tip

The banned accounts belonged to PeaceData, a news website publishing misleading articles about world politics.
Written by Catalin Cimpanu, Contributor

Moscow, Russia - July 31, 2018: Tourists walk on the red square on a summer day. View of the square and the Kremlin's Spassky Tower

Zayne C., Getty Images

Facebook and Twitter said on Tuesday that they removed social media accounts for a news organization going by the name of PeaceData, which they linked to Russia's state propaganda efforts.

The two social networks said they started an investigation into accounts associated with this news site after they received a tip from the FBI earlier this summer.

Who is PeaceData

Following investigations started by both platforms, Facebook said it removed 13 accounts and two pages, while Twitter said it banned five accounts, all of which were used to promote news articles hosted on the PeaceData.net website.

In a report [PDF] published today analyzing PeaceData's operations, social media research group Graphika said the news site focused on publishing news articles in both English and Arabic, critical of the US, the UK, and France.


PeaceData website

Image: ZDNet

Graphika said the website published content using both fake personas but also real journalists that they hired through ads posted on the Guru job portal.

Image: Graphika

The articles criticized both the right and left wings of the political spectrum, along with US military and foreign policies.

"They published and shared articles about the race protests in the United States, accusations of foreign interference and war crimes committed by the US, corruption, and the suffering caused by capitalism," Graphika wrote in its report.

These articles are still live on the PeaceData website today. Many have skewed views and cover conspiracy theories, with headlines such as "Overfunding of US Military Is Driving Climate Change and White Supremacist Culture of War Crimes," "Svetlana Tikhanovskaya's Deleted Webpages Show She's Little More Than a Western Regime Change Puppet," "Portland Protests: Authoritarian Trump Is Worse Than the Demagogue," and "Era of US Domination of Latin America Coming to an End."

Graphika said the network was still in its infancy when it was taken down, suggesting that the FBI had spotted the operation before it could do any real damage on social media.

In a series of tweets today, Twitter confirmed this assessment, claiming that the banned PeaceData accounts "achieved little impact on Twitter and were identified and removed quickly."

Linked to Russia's IRA

Twitter avoided naming the real entity behind the PaceData website and only said that it could "reliably attribute to Russian state actors."

On the other hand, Facebook was more brazen in a blog post today, claiming that the PeaceData website was linked to "individuals associated with past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA)," the infamous Russian company based in Sankt Petersburg that is known to engage in online influence operations on behalf of the Russian government, and who is mostly known for its interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

Graphika also backed Facebook's assessment, linking PeaceData to Russia's IRA as well.

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