Facebook Inc. removed a network of more than 500 Instagram accounts that originated in Russia and targeted audiences in support of anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny, according to a new report from the social media company.
The campaign relied on fake accounts to post critical or irrelevant content with hashtags associated with protests in January that backed the imprisoned opposition leader, a phenomenon known as hashtag poisoning, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy. The process involves posting irrelevant or critical content to drown out relevant information and redirect the conversation. In some cases, fake users posted memes suggesting protesters got Covid-19.
Facebook’s automatic systems often detected and removed the fake accounts, prompting the bad actors to create new ones, so there were never 500 accounts in operation at the same time, Gleicher said.
The social media campaign targeted domestic audiences throughout demonstrations attended by tens of thousands of protesters in dozens of cities over the weekends of Jan. 23 and 31. The protests provoked a violent response from authorities, who accuse Navalny of working with foreign governments to try to destabilize the regime.
A video on my YouTube channel showing a violent protester of North Caucasus origin fighting the police was removed on grounds that violence is not allowed on the website. However, my channel contains other videos that could be interpreted as violent, why was this chosen? Maybe because it was posted shortly after the protests and would conflict with the Western media narrative of the protesters being “mostly peaceful.” My Twitter account was suspended because I criticized Navalny. And this leads me to believe that there was a command from somewhere to censor any critical content related to Alexey Navalny.