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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

‘Cyber groups misuse FB to spread Covid vaccine lies in India’

Russian cyber groups targeted audiences in India, Latin America and the US, said a Facebook report.

By: ENS Economic Bureau | New Delhi |
Updated: August 12, 2021 7:29:29 am
Facebook claimed that most targeted campaigns, meant for audiences in India, “fell flat”.

Coordinated cyber groups from Russia targeted audiences in India, Latin America and to a small extent in the US to spread misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Pfizer on Facebook, the platform said in a report.

The Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Report for July 2021, released by the platform on August 10, said that with the help of influencers, Fazze, a subsidiary of a UK-registered marketing firm whose operations were mainly conducted from inside Russia, used 65 Facebook and 243 Instagram accounts to spread misinformation such as the Covid-19 vaccine turning people into Chimpanzees.

“Five months later, in May 2021, it questioned the safety of the Pfizer vaccine by posting an allegedly hacked and leaked AstraZeneca document. It is noteworthy that both phases coincided with periods when a number of governments, including in Latin America, India and the United States, were reportedly discussing the emergency authorizations for these respective vaccines,” Facebook said in its report.

These campaigns, the social media conglomerate said in the report, created misleading articles and petitions on multiple platforms such as Medium, Reddit, Change.org, among others and used fake accounts of Facebook and Instagram to “seed and amplify this off-platform content, using crude spammy tactics”.

In its report, Facebook also claimed that most of these targeted campaigns, meant for audiences in India, “fell flat”.

“At the time of this writing, its English-language petition on Change[.]org gained only about 550 signatures, and its Hindi-language petition gained less than 900 signatures. Only the paid influencers’ posts attracted some limited attention. However, this reliance on external influencers became the operation’s undoing— in May, a handful of them exposed the anti-Pfizer efforts,” the platform said in its report.

Apart from the anti-Pfizer and anti-AstraZeneca campaign, Facebook said it also took down a coordinated network targeting audiences in Myanmar. The said network, which originated inside the country, used “duplicate and fake accounts” to post on Facebook, comment on their own posts and create groups.

“Some of the accounts posed as protesters and members of the opposition and joined pro-democracy Groups, while others ran pro-military Pages that claimed to expose anti-Tatmadaw protesters. A handful of accounts used photos likely generated using machine learning techniques like generative adversarial networks (GAN),” Facebook said in its report, claiming that it had banned 79 such Facebook accounts, 13 pages, 19 Instagram accounts, and eight Facebook pages.

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