For six years, a mysterious group used fake documents and an anonymous network of social media accounts to spread false information promoting Russia’s national interests, according to a new report by Graphika,media The Verge reported. Dubbed “Secondary Infektion,” the campaign spanned multiple online platforms, starting on LiveJournal in Russia in 2014 and moving to Twitter and YouTube later that year.
In the years that followed, the campaign shifted to Reddit, Medium, and even BuzzFeed’s user-generated section. Overall, the report covers more than 2,500 content and is published in seven languages and more than 300 different forums, websites and social networks. “By April 21, 2020, Graphika had identified about 250 images inserted in the operation, almost all of which were suspected of forgery. The report said. “We hope to find more.” “
According to the researchers, the content tends to promote topics consistent with Russia’s national interests during this period, including Ukraine’s unreliability, hostility to NATO intervention, or personal attacks on critics of the Russian government. The sport is particularly critical of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which imposed a four-year ban on Russian participation in international sports after finding evidence that laboratory results had been tampered with.
Despite the broad and long duration of the campaign, few posts reach a wide audience, suggesting that the group coordinating the effort may not have succeeded in achieving its goals. “If secondary Infektion’s goal is viral,” the report concludes, “then it failed.”
In many cases, users seem to think that these “network sprinkler” posts are untrustworthy and are influenced by poor grammar or quirky political agendas. “During this study, Graphika repeatedly encountered comments below the Secondary Infektion story, questioning or mocking them, or calling them ‘Russian sprayers,'” the researchers said. “It is therefore important to maintain a correct perception when developing measures to respond to such online actions. “
The researchers did not find any altered audio content or deepfake video, but instead found a large number of altered screenshots, usually in the article. One of the most shocking examples was the organization’s falsifying of a letter from Senator Bob Corker to Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s former prime minister, allegedly accusing Yatsenyuk of provoking racial tensions. However, Corker never wrote such a letter, but the forged letter was used as a justification for the Indymedia forum post in the UK, which accused the country of “genocide against non-Ukrainians.”
As with many of the group’s articles, the editorial contains strange language, suggesting that it was not written by a native English speaker. In one passage, the author says: “EU countries should wake Ukraine up like their parents do with naughty boys.”
It is still unclear who coordinated the campaign, but the researchers note that there are some similarities with the Internet Research Agency, a Russian agency involved in similar attempts to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The group has been active, most recently removing IRA-related posts from Facebook in 2018.