Meta Reports Takedown Of Russian Disinformation Campaign

Technology company Meta shared a report this week detailing the takedown of a massive state-run network of pro-Russian propaganda websites and accounts across its platforms. The network was the “largest and most complex Russian-origin operation” that Meta has come across since the beginning of the war in February. The complex web of accounts stretched across YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as creating petitions on websites such as All of these accounts parroted pro-Russian talking points, ranging from Ukrainian refugees to Western sanctions. This disinformation campaign mainly focused on Germany, as well as Ukraine, Italy, France, and the U.K. Most concerningly, the Meta investigation also uncovered sophisticated fakes of well-regarded European news outlets, such as The Guardian, ANSA, and Spiegel.

The report, which also describes a smaller, similar network launched by China, pays homage to the initial concerns raised by German investigative reporters working for the news company T-Online. Published in August, their original article describes legions of troll accounts with various combinations of common German names that spread anti-Ukrainian sentiments and promoted intricately designed fake webpages of well-known news outlets. T-Online reported that these “sock-puppet” accounts were present on Twitter. The news company then reached out to Meta, who began their investigation.

The scale of the propaganda campaign seems staggering, with over 1,600 accounts spread across Facebook and Instagram and approximately $105,000 spent in advertising. The operation began with the creation of “mini-brands,” promoted and shared by false accounts to generate artificial engagement. These echo-chambers would promote anti-Ukrainian sentiments: for example, a petition railing against the “unacceptable generosity” shown toward Ukrainian refugees by the German government. Fake accounts promoted this petition along with the “News Freies Deutschland” Telegram channel.

These mini brands experimented with different formats, perhaps in attempt to reach as many people as possible through different memes. One brand called “Nothing But Truth” moved from YouTube videos to Facebook memes, making use of common meme formats but pasting on the heads of world leaders involved in the conflict. The overall effect is nothing short of bizarre. The disinformation campaign also created news channels independently, such as the still active Reliable Recent News. On “,” articles point to the “the West” as the culprit behind the recent bombing on the Nord Stream pipelines, stating that, “The available evidence points so eloquently to the fact that the sabotage was carried out with U.S. involvement that there is no point in proving otherwise.”

The most advanced and worrying element of the operation, however, were the accurate copies of major news sites. Meta reported that from July 5th to 16th, 15 fake websites were set up. This quickly accelerated, with at least 40 more sites established from July 16th onwards. Some of these fakes are convincing to the untrained eye, with only small details such as changes in domain names differentiating them from legitimate news sites. One Guardian fake had links to real live-news coverage and had copied the headshots of real Guardian journalists. The content contained within these spoof sites was copied across the network, with one article claiming that the Bucha massacre was faked appearing in a variety of languages in various impersonator websites, including the fake ANSA and Spiegel. In addition to this, “” ran the story in a number of different languages. These fakes were heavily and “crudely” promoted by false accounts, in what Meta called a “a resource-intensive and noisy approach.”

The Kremlin’s propaganda machine has been running full steam since before the invasion kicked off in February of 2022, with tech company Cyabra tracking an 11,000% jump in anti-Ukrainian sentiments in January that many analysts attribute to some inauthentic activity. Whilst creating fake memes and petitions might seem the very least of Ukraine’s problems, this report serves as a reminder to be especially stringent when sourcing information. Disinformation can drive hatred and conflict. Public opinion can change the course of war, and has played a significant part in the worldwide support of Ukraine thus far. The opinion of the average European citizen is worth, at the very least, $105,000 to Russia. Surely, we owe it to the citizens of Ukraine to ensure it is not a conflict tarnished by clumsy disinformation.