Amid Russian war scare, a “panic infrastructure” targeting Ukrainians unfolds in Facebook

Ukrainians panic facebook disinformation

 

Hybrid War

As Russia concentrates troops on Ukrainian borders, an Armenian-run infrastructure for sowing panic among Ukrainians is being unfolded in Facebook, the Ukrainian media outlet Texty.org.ua says. The journalists have revealed a number of Facebook pages posing as Ukrainian patriotic groups which have been actively advertised on the platform. Most of those FB “ghost” pages are still empty, but when necessary, they “will be filled instantly — no wonder a lot of money has been spent for their promotion.”

UPDATE. At publication time, the mentioned pages were already banned by Facebook.

A fake Ukrainian patriotic FB page: case study

Texty.org.ua noticed paid ads of strange pages, consisting of a very patriotic photo often showing soldiers at the front and followed by a text like “Let’s support the defenders of Ukraine at least with likes. Click on the button on the right.” This is clickbait, and anyone clicking Like subscribes to the advertised page. Most such pages lack any content, but thanks to the flashy patriotic look and the manipulative ads they have hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

One of such pages titled News_Ua advertised using a photo of Ukrainian soldier Vadym Ushakov, call sign Yozhyk. On 12 April 2016, Vadym Ushakov, a machine gunner of the 90th Separate Airmobile Battalion, was seriously wounded while repelling an attack by Russian-hybrid forces on the Avdiivka industrial zone. Due to complications, he had lost the ability to walk and talk, and has been currently undergoing a difficult rehabilitation course. The caption accompanying Vadym Ushakov’s photo in the ad was “Today is my birthday… I wonder how many people would greet me. Hero of Ukraine.”

“Today is my birthday… I wonder how many people would greet me. Hero of Ukraine. Click the like button here,” reads the caption for the ad of a pseudo-patriotic page on FB which uses a photo of soldier Vadym Ushakov. Screenshot: Texty.org.ua ~

“Today is my birthday… I wonder how many people would greet me. Hero of Ukraine. Click the like button here,” reads the caption for the ad of a pseudo-patriotic page on FB which uses a photo of soldier Vadym Ushakov. Screenshot: Texty.org.ua

At the time when the article’s author made the screenshot of the ad with Ushakov, the photo had 8,500 likes and had 848 comments – mainly congratulations to the hero on his birthday, while the advertised page with no content had 42,087 subscribers. By the time of the publication of Texty.org.ua’s article, 69,024 people subscribed to this page.

Driving up the numbers of followers using a photo of a person with disabilities who has “a birthday today” is “one of the most effective, simple, and immoral methods on social media,” Texty.org.ua says. Normally, they post a photo of a beautiful young woman or child with a prosthetic limb adding a text like: “I am Masha. It’s my birthday today. But no one is gonna greet me or share this photo because I am disabled.” In 99% of such cases, the “Masha” actually turns out to be a foreign paralympic athlete who has no idea that someone is brazenly using her photo.

The page News_Ua created on 9 January 2022 turned out to be administered from Armenia. And later when the content started emerging on the page, it turned out that it is dedicated to the promotion of the website ukkraina.ru, with misspelled “Ukraine” under the Russian national top-level domain filled with shareable Ukrainian pseudo-patriotic content.

A fake Ukrainian patriotic FB page administered from Armenia, dedicated to the promotion of a Russian website. Screenshot: Texty.org.ua ~

A fake Ukrainian patriotic FB page administered from Armenia, dedicated to the promotion of a Russian website. Screenshot: Texty.org.ua

“Among the peculiarities of this page, it is worth mentioning the constant and very hysterical emphasis on the fallen soldiers, which makes a rather depressing impression. In addition, these ‘news stories’ often took place in 2014. Publishing old messages under the guise of fresh ones is also a standard method of misinformation,” Texty’s article goes.

Other Armenian-run pages pretending to be Ukrainian patriotic

Among other revealed fake patriotic pages, Texty.org.ua revealed one titled Ridna Ukraina (‘homeland Ukraine’) with almost 1,000,000 subscribers. This page also has Armenian administrators and promotes another similar Russian website, rodina365.ru. Just like News_Ua, this page also reuses several-year-old content, often with a hysterical focus on the deaths of soldiers, and in the same way, it’s being advertised using patriotic photos of warriors.

Other examples of the Facebook pages revealed by Texty, identical in their look and the way they are advertised, are:

  • Narod Govorit (‘The People speaks’) with about 60,000 subscribers, maintained from Armenia, with no posts yet;
  • Ukraina Live (about 65,000 subs), no content. “Despite the fact that we see ‘Made in Ukraine’ on its profile picture, it is administered from Armenia too,” Texty.org.ua notes;
  • Novyny Ukrainy ta svitu (‘News of Ukraine and World’), about 60,000 subscribers, empty as well, Armenian administrators;
  • Storinka novyn (‘News Page’), about 50,000 subs, empty, Armenian-run;
  • Kvartal podiy (‘City Block of Events’), some 55,000 subscribers, run from Armenia, the posts focus on “death and pain”;
  • Strana.UA (about 60,000 subs) uses the name and logo of a Ukrainian pro-Russian news site, yet it’s also run from Armenia. Like other mentioned FB pages, this uses Ukrainian symbols and patriotic photographs and focuses on deaths. Additionally, it promotes panic-inducing narratives. The page’s advertisement uses “a disabled child claiming to have a birthday and urgently needing to be supported by likes, as well as a patriotic photo of girls in camouflage.”
Facebook page Strana.UA using the logo and title of a pro-Russian website but pretending to be a Ukrainian patriotic page and the example of the page’s FB ad with a disabled child asking to like the page. Screenshots: Texty.org.ua ~

Facebook page Strana.UA using the logo and title of a pro-Russian website but pretending to be a Ukrainian patriotic page and the example of the page’s FB ad with a disabled child asking to like the page. Screenshots: Texty.org.ua

In addition to Armenia-run Facebook pages, Texty.org.ua found a number of identical pages administered from Ukraine. These also take advantage of patriotic titles and designs, manipulative advertising through patriotic photos, lack of content emptiness, created in the same timeframe.

“But it is worth remembering: Facebook indexes users from the Crimea and the occupied areas of the Donbas as Ukrainian (which, it should be noted, is absolutely correct),” the article reads.

All the revealed pages are designed and advertised in similar ways, they actively use Ukrainian national symbols and present themselves positioned as news and media companies. They all use primitive but effective manipulative technologies, at the same time, a lot of money is spent on paid advertising on social media.

The way how Russia had carried out information support for hostilities in 2014-2015 makes the authors of the article anticipate that such pages are going to spread false reports on how Ukrainian soldiers encircled in a cauldron after a betrayal by treacherous generals and politicians are all going to be killed — unless people would go out to rallies near the Defense Ministry or President’s Office or elsewhere.

“It is also telling that all of these pages were created almost simultaneously. It was the end of November when Russia planned an escalation) and the first half of January when Russia began to actively deploy its troops near the borders of Ukraine,” Texty.org.ua added.

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