This story is part of War in Ukraine, CNET’s coverage of events there and of the wider effects on the world.
Facebook parent company Meta says attacks on internet freedom and access to information have been “intensifying sharply” since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the first three months of the year, the social media giant also saw a rise in domestic threats, such as people hacking the accounts of other people in their country, running disinformation campaigns or filing false reports to silence critics.
Meta outlined these cybersecurity threats in a quarterly report released Thursday. Nick Clegg, who heads global affairs at the company, said during a press conference that Meta has grappled with propaganda from state-run media, influence campaigns and cyber-espionage.
“We are actively now reviewing additional steps to address misinformation and hoaxes coming from Russian government pages,” Clegg said a day earlier. Meta declined to share what those steps are, noting that it’s still trying to understand their potential impact.
The Russia-Ukraine war has posed challenges for social media companies. Russia blocked access to Facebook and its photo-and-video service Instagram after Facebook started to make content from Russian state-controlled media outlets tougher to find. Russia’s Investigative Committee also opened a criminal case against Meta after the company said it would temporarily allow some violent speech against Russian invaders. When asked about the status of that case, Meta said it couldn’t comment on legal proceedings.
The company said it also saw influence operations from government-linked actors from Russia and Belarus increase before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These actors targeted the Ukrainian telecommunications industry; global and Ukrainian defense and energy sectors; tech platforms; and journalists and activists in Ukraine, Russia and abroad, the report said.
On Feb. 24, Meta said it disrupted fake accounts tied to the Belarusian KGB that posted in Polish and English about Ukrainian troops surrendering without a fight and the nation’s leaders fleeing the country. The actors had previously posted content that accused Poland of mistreating migrants from the Middle East. On March 14, they created a Facebook event in Warsaw calling for a protest against the Polish government. Meta said it disabled the account and event the same day and didn’t find evidence that the protest had happened.
In February, Meta said hackers tied to an operation known as Ghostwriter have been targeting Ukrainian military officials and journalists to spread disinformation. Ghostwriter typically tries to steal people’s login information by tricking them into clicking on a malicious link in an email. Last year, Mandiant Threat Intelligence said in a report that it found evidence that suggests Ghostwriter has ties to a suspected state-sponsored cyber-espionage actor called UNC1151. In November, Mandiant Threat Intelligence linked UNC1151 to the Belarusian government. Since February, Ghostwriter has tried to hack into the Facebook accounts of dozens of Ukrainian military personnel, Meta said.
Cyber-espionage isn’t the only threat Meta has been battling. The company also pulled down about 200 accounts from Russia that falsely reported users for violating its rules against hate speech, bullying and inauthenticity. Most of these fake reports were aimed at people in Ukraine and Russia, but the accounts also reported users in Israel, the US and Poland. Meta said these fake reports increased right before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The people behind the false reports coordinated this effort in a cooking-themed Facebook Group likely to evade detection. Meta said the Facebook Group had 50 members when it was taken down.
Outside of fake accounts and hackers, Meta has also been dealing with scams related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These scammers have livestreamed gaming videos and reshared other people’s videos from Ukraine to make it seem like they were posting live updates. Some also switched names to dupe people into following them, directing them to websites or merchandise sold off Facebook. Since the war began, Meta said, it’s investigated and removed tens of thousands of these accounts, Facebook Pages and Facebook Groups.