At a glance.
- Meta flags activity with a connection to the US military.
- Facebook removes familiar categories from its profiles.
- A shift in Russian influence operations.
- European Parliament votes to declare Russia a terrorist state (and Russia responds with cyberattacks and terroristic threats).
Meta flags activity with a connection to the US military.
In its Quarterly Adversarial Threat Report for Q2, issued in November, Meta observed "three covert influence operations that it investigated and removed for violating its policies against coordinated inauthentic behavior." Two of the findings were no surprise: one represented a Chinese campaign against, mainly, the US and the Czech Republic, and the other was a Russian operation against Germany, France, Italy, the UK and, of course, Ukraine. The third, however, was a bit of an outlier. The network in question originated in the US and had military connections. Meta says:
"We removed 39 Facebook accounts, 16 Pages, two Groups and 26 accounts on Instagram for violating our policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior. This network originated in the United States and focused on a number of countries including Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Somalia, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Yemen. We found several clusters of activity that relied on fake accounts — some of which were detected and disabled by our automated systems prior to our investigation — to post content, drive people to off-platform domains and manage Groups and Pages. These regional clusters were focused on Iran and the Gulf, Central Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa. Typically, each cluster posted about particular themes, including sports and culture in a particular country; cooperation with the United States, including military cooperation; and criticism of Iran, China, or Russia. The people behind this network posed as locals in the countries they targeted."
The apparent US effort, described by the Washington Post, doesn't seem to have attracted much engagement, and its results appear at best to have been indifferent.
Facebook removes familiar categories from its profiles.
Effective December 1st, Facebook removed some familiar categories from its profiles, notably religion, political commitments, addresses, and the “Interested in” field that effectively indicated sexual orientation. Gizmodo describes the decision as a complex one, driven in part by concern to manage regulatory and legal risk, and in part by a recognition that the ways in which people use social media have changed. The risk reduction involves limiting the platform's collection and handling of potentially toxic data, and thus limiting its exposure to, for example, anti-discrimination law and privacy suits. The cultural shift has seen, over the years of Facebook's existence, people growing increasingly wary about revealing personal information and becoming less entertained by the creation of long personal profiles.
A shift in Russian influence operations.
It's focused on a domestic audience, at least for now, but a new community of quasi-independent "milbloggers" has emerged and found official encouragement, according to a report issued yesterday by the Institute for the Study of War. As a group they're hard-war and strongly nationalist in orientation. They have on occasion been critical of the war, but only insofar as they see it being waged softly or incompetently. Many of them have ties with nationalist thinkers, a number are correspondents for state media outlets, and some have recently been appointed to official positions within the government. Thus their independence is conditional. President Putin is said to have prevented the Ministry of Defense from suppressing or controlling the bloggers.
"Putin continues to double down on support for the independence of milblogger reporting even as he doubles down on efforts to mobilize the Russian population for war," the Institute writes. "These two phenomena are almost certainly related. Putin likely recognizes that the Kremlin and especially the MoD has lost whatever trust many Russians may have had in the veracity of its claims as well as the need to rely on such voices as pro-war Russians find authentic to retain support for the increasing sacrifices he is demanding. Putin’s defense of the milbloggers’ criticisms of his chosen officials is remarkable. It suggests that he sees retaining the support of at least some notable segment of the Russian population as a center of gravity for the war effort if not for the survival of his regime and that he is willing to endure critiques from a group he perceives as loyal to secure that center of gravity."
But this is also a familiar trope in Russian history. "If only the Tsar knew," patriots traditionally lamented. The fault arousing discontent lies with the wicked eunuchs around the throne, not with the strong, wise, and benevolent ruler. Watch your back, Mr. Shoigu.
European Parliament votes to declare Russia a terrorist state (and Russia responds with cyberattacks and terroristic threats).
The European Parliament last Wednesday voted to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism on the grounds that its strikes against Ukrainian civilian targets (including energy infrastructure, hospitals, schools and shelters) violate international law and warrant the terrorist designation. It's effectively a symbolic vote, since the European Parliament, Reuters explains, lacks a legal framework that might provide some mechanisms for enforcement, but the designation is thought likely to spur deeper sanctions. Maria Zakharova of the Russian Foreign Ministry responded in her Telegram channel, "I propose designating the European Parliament as a sponsor of idiocy."
A few hours after the vote, the Parliament's websites were taken down for a short period of time by a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, which, the Wall Street Journal and others report, members of the EU's Parliament described as "sophisticated." It took about two hours to restore service, and since the incident appears to have been a relatively routine DDoS attack, it's difficult to see where the sophistication lay. The Russian auxiliary threat actor Killnet has claimed responsibility in a message posted to its Telegram channel, which reads in part, "Killnet officially recognizes the European Parliament as sponsors of homosexualism!" Most observers are inclined to credit Killnet's claim of responsibility--the attack looks like something up their alley.
Another Russian response came from Wagner Group impresario Yevgeny Prigozhin, who posted a video of a business-suited man (said to be a Wagner Group lawyer) placing a sledgehammer with a polished head and the Group logo into a violin case for shipment to the European Parliament. The handle of the sledgehammer was daubed with red paint, as if the tool were smeared with blood. It's an unusually contemptuous, menacing, and repellent gesture. The Wagner Group has adopted the sledgehammer as a symbol; the mercenary group has used sledgehammers to murder prisoners. And it's filmed some of those murders. The symbolism is unmistakable, the message clear. It's Caligula's "Oderint dum metuant." Let them hate us, as long as they fear us.