How Facebook and Google Fund Global Disinformation


There were hundreds of them, racking up tens of thousands of engagements and hundreds of thousands of views. In early November, MIT Technology Review found dozens of duplicate fake live videos from this time period still active. A duplicate pair with more than 200,000 and 160,000 views, respectively, proclaimed in Burmese: “I am the only one broadcasting live from across the country in real time.” Facebook removed several of them after we notified them, but there are still dozens more left, as well as the pages that posted them. Osborne said the company is aware of the problem and has significantly reduced these False Lives and their distribution over the past year.

Ironically, Rio believes, the videos were likely taken from images of the crisis uploaded to YouTube as evidence of human rights. In other words, the scenes are indeed from Myanmar, but they were all posted from Vietnam and Cambodia.

Over the past half year, Rio has tracked down and identified several sets of pages that were sold out in Vietnam and Cambodia. Many used fake live videos to quickly grow their following and drive viewers to join Facebook groups disguised as pro-democracy communities. Rio is now concerned that Facebook’s latest launch of in-stream ads on live videos will further incentivize clickbait actors to fake them. An 18-page Cambodian group began posting highly damaging political misinformation, reaching a total of 16 million interactions and an audience of 1.6 million in four months. Facebook removed all 18 pages in March, but new groups continue to grow while others remain.

As far as Rio knows, these Vietnamese and Cambodian actors do not speak Burmese. They may not understand Burmese culture or the politics of the country. The bottom line is that it is not necessary. Not when they are stealing your content.

Since then, Rio has found several of Cambodians’ private Facebook and Telegram groups (one with more than 3,000 people), where they exchange tools and tips on the best money-making strategies. MIT Technology Review reviewed the documents, images, and videos it collected and hired a Khmer translator to interpret a video tutorial that guides viewers step-by-step through a clickbait workflow.

The materials show how Cambodian operators collect research on the best performing content in each country and plagiarize it for their clickbait websites. A shared Google Drive folder within the community has two dozen spreadsheets of links to the most popular Facebook groups in 20 countries, including the US, UK, Australia, India, France, Germany, Mexico, and Brazil. .

The video tutorial also shows how they find the most viral YouTube videos in different languages ​​and use an automated tool to turn each one into an article for their site. We found 29 YouTube channels spreading political misinformation about the current political situation in Myanmar, for example, which were being converted into clickbait articles and redistributed to new audiences on Facebook.

One of the YouTube channels spreading political misinformation in Myanmar. Google finally removed it.

After bringing the channels to their attention, YouTube fired all of them for violating its community guidelines, including seven it found to be part of coordinated influence operations linked to Myanmar. Choi noted that YouTube had previously stopped running ads on nearly 2,000 videos on these channels as well. “We continue to actively monitor our platforms to prevent bad actors from seeking to abuse our network for profit,” he said.

Then there are other tools, including one that allows pre-recorded videos to appear as fake Facebook Live videos. Another randomly generated Profile Details for US Men, including picture, name, date of birth, social security number, phone number and address, so another tool can mass produce fake Facebook accounts using some of that information.

Now it is so easy to do that many Cambodian actors operate alone. Rio calls them microentrepreneurs. In the most extreme scenario, you’ve seen people manage up to 11,000 Facebook accounts on their own.

Successful microentrepreneurs are also training others to do this work in their community. “It’s going to get worse,” he says. “Any Joe in the world could be affecting your information environment without you realizing it.”


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