Facebook took down 50 Instagram accounts that indicated links to the Internet Research Agency (IRA) and posted 75,000 times.

An analysis of the recent disinformation campaign by Graphika, a leading data science and network analysis firm, reveals how Instagram accounts posting about US social and political issues and the 2020 election aimed to polarise communities of swing states ahead of the 2020 US presidential elections. Facebook, which is facing public pressure to crack down on election-related influence efforts on the platform, announced the takedown last week.

Facebook concluded that the operation originated from Russia and showed some links to the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll factory that previously targeted US audiences and the United States presidential election in 2016. The IRACopyPasta campaign, which received this nickname due to its close resemblance to the previous IRA campaigns, focused on socially divisive issues like race, immigration, and Second Amendment (gun ownership) rights.

The 50 accounts claimed to represent various politically active US communities from both sides of the political spectrum, including black activists, police supporters, LGBT groups, Christian conservatives, Muslims, environmentalists, and gun-right activists. Some supported Senator Bernie Sanders and some President Donald Trump.

Notably, a number of accounts representing both left- and right-wing views attacked Joe Biden, who is widely considered to be the leading Democratic presidential candidate based on current polls. This brings back memories of similar strategy deployed by the IRA against Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Presidential elections campaign. In addition, some accounts also attacked Democratic candidates Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, who are competing for Democrats nomination with Bernie Sanders. Almost half of the 50 accounts claimed to be based in swing states, especially Florida.

But the similarities with previous IRA campaigns do not stop with choice of targets and content. Some of the 50 Instagram accounts actually reused content originally produced by the IRA, though recreated IRA content is insufficient grounds on its own to provide a firm attribution. Moreover, multiple accounts shared the same content just hours apart, indicating that they were, more than likely, part of the same network.

Many posts only contained memes without any accompanying text, an approach possibly intended to reduce the risk of language errors – one of the most important telltale signs of inauthentic Russian-origin content. In the same vein, posts that did include text were usually a copy-paste of viral posts originally created by American accounts – hence the moniker IRACopyPasta. Screenshots of tweets from genuine Americans were also used.

Most of the posts by these Instagram accounts were about general news, probably intended to develop the brand and credibility of the online persona. In terms of reach, some posts gained hundreds of likes, although these numbers were orders of magnitude lower than the American originals they copied. Most of the accounts had fewer than 5,000 followers and only the account focusing on environmental issues had more than 20,000 followers.

False information labels

The app will add false information labels that obscure posts that have been debunked by Facebook’s fact checkers, the company announced.

The labels, which will roll out over the next month, will appear on posts in Stories and Instagram’s main feed. Users will still be able to view the original post, but they’ll have to click See Post to get there.

The update comes less than two weeks after the Senate Intelligence Committee released the second volume of its report on interference in the 2016 election, which called Instagram the most effective tool used by the Internet Research Campaign.

Instagram will also warn users who attempt to share a post that has previously been debunked. Before the post goes live, they’ll see a notice that fact checkers say it contains false information, with a link to more information. They can still opt to share the post with their followers, but it will appear with the false information label.

In addition to clearer labels, we’re also working to take faster action to prevent misinformation from going viral, especially given that quality reporting and fact-checking takes time, the company writes. In many countries, including in the US, if we have signals that a piece of content is false, we temporarily reduce its distribution pending review by a third-party fact-checkers.

The steps are the most aggressive that Facebook has taken to reduce the spread of viral misinformation on Instagram.

Link: https://euvsdisinfo.eu/figure-of-the-week-75000/

Recently, the attention of the world and the domestic public has been captured by the 5G network and its capabilities.

Does the next generation network of higher capacity and reach represent a major advancement in technology or …

The expert public agrees that this is a project aimed at faster data transfer technology with larger number of connected users and devices. However, as disinformation has become ubiquitous in all areas, it is not surprising that the issue of 5G has also caught the eye of conspiracy theorists and manipulators.

The fifth generation of the network, known as 5G, will, apart from mobile phones, expand its influence to other devices such as security cameras, drones, autonomous cars, home appliances, and the robotics industry.

What is the 5G network?

5G is the next generation of mobile internet, which aims to download and transfer data much faster, but also to expand coverage and provide a more stable connection. 5G technology also allows downloading files whose size is no longer a problem for users. The 3G network transfers data in 24 hours, while the 5G network will be able to perform the same operation in just 3.6 seconds. When asked whether these actions will cause changes in our organisms, experts answer negatively.

In technology, just like in other spheres, every innovation raises many questions and provokes different reactions from people. The advent of a new mobile device, app, operating system and the like, triggers an avalanche of comments and divided opinions. Such a development does not bypass the 5G technology either.

When implementing new, advanced technologies, concerns about potential adverse consequences are always present. From the moment it was announced, the 5G network has been characterized as suspicious and dangerous to human health, which is why 5G technology practically became the conspiracy theory.

The number of 5G opponents grows

Currently, there is a growing number in the world of those who oppose the 5G network, not wanting it to become functional. They cite high risks to human and animal health as reasons for their indignation. With the help of media, social networks and propaganda, they are increasingly trying to influence those who do not share their opinions.

On the other hand, professionals and technology geeks miss no opportunity to showcase the benefits and capabilities of the 5G network. Many scientists, technology professionals, doctors, conspiracy theorists, as well as technology lovers discuss the debate on 5G technology around the world. The trend has not bypassed the Western Balkans. There are numerous texts, videos and comments on the pros and cons of the 5G network.

What do the Montenegrin media say?

The media outlets in Montenegro do not belong to a media group that makes negative comments about the 5G network. Montenegrin media, as well as mobile operators, inform the public what a 5G network is, what are its main features and capabilities and when it can be expected on the Montenegrin market. Mobile operators are suggesting that Montenegro is trying to keep up with the current technological trends in the world, so it is also the case with the 5G network.

Montenegrin portals antenam.net, investor.me, standard.com.me, cdm.me, mina.news, mondo.me have written that the 5G network delivers higher Internet bandwidth, and will positively affect many areas, such as traffic or health services. Mobile operators’ companies have announced that as early as 2020, Montenegrin users may be able to test the 5G network and all the benefits of a new generation of mobile communications.

The detrimental effect of electromagnetic waves?

However, not everyone believes that the new standard for mobile telecommunications services is useful, but they believe that 5G technology can cause serious consequences for the environment, humans, and animals. Opponents of the fifth mobile network generation think that a detrimental effect is caused by electromagnetic waves emitted by devices that use the most advanced technology.

Dejan Lucic, a publicist, geopolitician and conspiracy theorist, was a guest at the show Jutro on TV Prva and presented the network’s noxiousness of the scientists who could not appear on television for fear, he said. In that conversation, he pointed out that scientists have discovered that a 5G network is like a microwave and these microwaves influence on DNA and on changes in humans that are unknown. On the other hand, in the same show, IT expert Vojislav Rodic emphasized the fact that the 5G network is not being introduced because of people and human communication but because of devices (Internet of things) that are already or will be connected to the Internet. He also highlighted the time savings the 5G network provides and the fact that a large number of devices can be connected to the Internet using this network. Dejan Lucic, a publicist, geopolitician and conspiracy theorist, was a guest at the show Jutro on TV Prva and presented the network’s noxiousness of the scientists who could not appear on television for fear, he said. In that conversation, he pointed out that scientists have discovered that a 5G network is like a microwave and these microwaves influence on DNA and on changes in humans that are unknown. On the other hand, in the same show, IT expert Vojislav Rodic emphasized the fact that the 5G network is not being introduced because of people and human communication but because of devices (Internet of things) that are already or will be connected to the Internet. He also highlighted the time savings the 5G network provides and the fact that a large number of devices can be connected to the Internet using this network.

Numerous confrontations

The Facebook page Pravo na izbor, already known for advocating for the anti-vaccine campaign, shared a clip of the Jutarnji program on RTS television, where the topic of How dangerous is the 5G network? was introduced. Guests were a professor at the Faculty of Computer Science, Petar Kocovic, and epidemiologist Zoran Radovanovic. An IT professor points out that this technology will not only be used for mobile phones, but for a series of devices called the Internet of Things, and the current estimate is that there are between 50 and 100 billion of these devices.

To the statement that 5G is a death network, epidemiologist Zoran Radovanovic replies that this is an exaggeration and that not all radiation is the same. Radovanovic points out that it is necessary to monitor the effects of 5G or any other new technology, and only afterward to identify the advantages and disadvantages. Dr. Zoran Radovanovic was previously targeted by anti-vaccine activists, which we have already written about.

What will happen in the foreseeable future, whether a scientific study will emerge that will stop the spread of the 5G network or we will download the two-hour-long movie in just 3.6 seconds with the help of 5G technology, remains to be seen.

Over the last years, and particularly over the last months, we witnessed very intensive negative campaigns on Serbian media portals aimed at deteriorating the image of Montenegro as a preferable tourist destination

The Serbian and pro-Serbian media do not miss an opportunity to point out at all the tourist offer shortcomings on the Montenegrin coast. By spreading panic and giving warning alerts, they tend to present bad situation in the country, with a view to destabilizing the domestic economy by provoking the collapse of tourism.

Dreadful sight in Montenegro: Serbs will never visit you again! Tourists cancel packages on a large scale! Discharge of raw sewage seen at the most beautiful beach in Montenegro! Dangerous shark seen in the Adriatic Sea! Sneaks scared bathers at Buljarica and Mogren beach in Budva!

We singled out only some of the headlines which media such as Espreso, Alo, Telegraf, Srbija Danas, Informer portals, use to spread negative campaign. The headlines are followed by a set of appalling photos of waste in Sutomore, Budva and alike, intending to sabotage tourist season.

However, according to Maja Vukicevic, PR manager of the Montenegro Stars Hotel Group, most of the published photos and texts have been fabricated and re- cycled over the years.

Regardless such a negative campaign, the number of Serbian tourists has not decreased compared to previous years, said Aleksandra Maksimovic, PR of the National Tourism Organization. Judging from the tourism turnover gene- rated from the Serbian market, it is evident that the negative media campaigns do not influence significantly the tourist revenues, she concluded.

The motivation for further research was found in the Kiev Post‘s article published on January 14, mentioning the alleged establishment of the Unité Continentale organization in Belgrade.

Even though this article does not provide any further information, we decided to look into it a bit. Our first clue was French newspapers and portals, giving the fact that the article relied upon the French portal La Dépêche. The truth is that La Dépêche did write on the topic of French Donbass fighters, but nowhere in the article did it refer to Belgrade as a possible place of establishment of the Unité Continentale organization.

Therefore, we continue our research.

The other French portal, Libération, led us to an article from August 2014, published a week after four volunteers from France – Victor, Nikola, Guillaume and Michael – came to Ukraine to fight for Russia, all of whom are recognized as the founders of the Unité Continentale organization.

The article states that the Unité Continentale organization was established in Belgrade in January 2014, after having got in touch with the political party of Vojislav Šešelj, the Serbian Radical Party, and a nationalistic group called „Zavetnici“.

 „In Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, their paths crossed. Here is where they organized, in January, the Unité Continentale organization.“

It was with his political party (Vojislav Šešelj), the Serbian Radical Party, and another nationalistic group, Zavetnici, that „continentals“ got in touch in Belgrade.

In order to prove the credibility of this article, we paid some attention to its author Hélène Despic-Popovic. As a journalist, she was a special envoy in Donetsk for the French portal Libération. Despic-Popovic is also a specialist for the Balkans region, ex-USSR countries and Eastern Europe. She published a book under the title „Chroniques d’un génocide: Les carnets de général Mladic“ and also writes for the portal Nouvel Est – Voyage, Balkans, Caucase.

When it comes to the group „Zavetnici“, not only that it is quite politically active in Serbia and present in the media since its very founding in 2012, but its actions exist well in the territory of Montenegro, Republika Srpska, in one word in the whole Serbian diaspora.

The confirmation of their connection with the Unité Continentale organization we found on their Facebook page. The photo below shows that the Unité Continentale basically „calls on“ all citizens to participate at a gathering under the title „Serbs and Russians together through centuries“, which is organized by „Zavetnici“.

In addition, interesting is the news, reported recently in the media, announcing that the group „Zavetnici“ expressed their wish to form a political party.

Further research on the Unité Continentale organization led as to an article from June 2018, published on the Radio Slobodna Evropa portal, in which it is mentioned its establishment in Belgrade and pointed out to a number of Serbian people who were its members and who were convicted before Belgrade’s High Court in 2018.

Actually, the document provided to the Radio Slobodna Evropa by the General Prosecution of Ukraine, as a response to the enquiry concerning Serbian fighters in Ukraine, states among other things that the Unité Continentale organization was established in summer 2014 and that among 54 investigated persons there were 6 Serbs, all identified as its members.

They are Radomir Pocuca, Zoran Kljajic, Stevan Milosevic, Stefan Celavi, Ivan Mackic and Bratislav Zivkovic. All of them are labelled as the Ukrainian battlefield mercenaries on the Ukrainian website „Myrotovrets“– a website made in the connection with the Center of Research on the Signs of Crime against National Security of Ukraine.

As early as 2014, Serbia adopted the amendments to their Criminal Procedural Code referring to the participation of Serbian nationals at foreign battlefields, and in February 2018, the Belgrade’s High Court delivered 28 convictions to Serbian nationals for the participation in Ukrainian war in 2014.

Among interesting persons from the abovementioned list, we found out that Radomir Pocuca was convicted before Belgrade’s High Court after a plea deal to a prison term of a year and a half, and four years of probation.

The other interesting person is Stevan Milosevic, whose interview for the Radio Slobodna Evropa portal from October 2018 gave us the following information.

In the interview, Milosevic does not mention in what way he came to Ukraine, but he does mention that he came into contact via a Facebook page with an organization in Donbass which organized him a trip to Russia. A guy from France, Nikola, also the commandant of their group, provided him and several others with airline tickets Belgrade-Moscow.

We recall that the Unité Continentale organization was established by Victor Lenta and Nikola Perovic, who is born in France of a Montenegrin father and a Serbian mother, who has both Serbian and French citizenship.

Further tracking the Unité Continentale story development, we came across Cristopher Othen, a blogger who wrote a lot about both this organization and Serbian Donbass fighters.

His blog post reveals that soon after their arrival in Novorossiya, the fight over leadership occurred between Lenta and Perovic, causing a lot of distress inside the organization. After this development, the Novorossiya authorities disbanded the group, thus putting an end to their activities. Even though few members returned home, a number of them stayed in Ukraine.

Finally, in 2018 we came across further activities on the Unité Continentale Facebook page where a new person emerges – Darko Pavlovic – who is, according to the posts, due to take the organization leadership at the end of the year.

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During the research process on the establishment place of the Unité Continentale organization, we came across its commander’s statement, Nikola Perovic’s, for the Srbin.info portal, which took us to a different direction, yet connected with the whole story.

According to his statement, one of the Unité Continentale organization members, Ivan Mackic, mentioned at the beginning of this article, came up with an idea to establish a special unit, Serbian Hussar Regiment, which was due to unite Serbian and French people. The whole story included Pocuca as well, also a former member of the organization. As things were moving in another direction for Nikola and his organization, he abandoned this idea and there is where our clue ends when it comes to Nikola’s statement anyway.

Further details about this Regiment were found in the YouTube video published in September 2017, where one of the Serbian volunteers in Novorossiya, Dejan Beric, questions Radomir Pocuca and Vlado Stanic about an alleged assassination attempt on him and the Regiment’s colonel Dragan Srdic known as Dragon.

Here, Pocuca indicates his leaving the Unité Continetal group and that during his stay in Moscow he came into contact with Ivan Mackic, with whom he started to develop the idea of the Regiment’s establishment. Getting in touch with Metropolitan Sergej, the whole idea got a more serious note and the Serbian Hussar Regiment was established.

In the beginning, the Regiment was established within the „Oplot“ unit, and there existed the idea of its independence after it evolved. During its active period, call on the fight in Ukraine was performed via a YouTube video. As for now, the further developments of this Regiment are unknown.

The Government of Kosovo passed the decision on forming the Army of Kosovo, after the Parliament of Kosovo unanimously voted the Law on Kosovo Security Force.

106 MPs out of 120 seated Parliament of Kosovo, voted for passing on the Law, with total 45 amendments. The session was boycotted by the minority Serb MPs.

Belgrade sees the creation of the Kosovo Army as breaching the International documents, and referring to the Resolution 1244 UN, it emphasizes that the international peacekeeping forces at Kosovo (KFOR) must prevent and disarm all Albanian troops. President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, stated that he was “very concerned following the current situation in Kosovo”, saying that “the only big problem is in what partly the Albanians and partly the rest of the world” impose in Kosovo.”

Official Belgrade and its close ally Russia are very furious about that decision.

As a reaction to the adoption of the decision on creating the Army of Kosovo, the Serbian-US community launched an online petition on December 19th, addressing the President of the USA Donald Trump and Congress, asking for protection of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija.

The petition entitled “Stop the Persecution of Serbian Christians in Kosovo and Metohija” calls for Trump and Congress members to stop supporting Albanian administration led by Hashim Thaci and creation of the Army, under their control in Serbian province Kosovo and Metohija. The petition was signed by more than 5.000 people.

Several national portals, such as in4s.net and slobodacg.me posted articles on the mentioned petition, with the following headline: A Million American Serbs Require from Trump: Do not Support Thaci – the criminal.

in4s.me
slobodacg.me
Source: change.org

It could be concluded, from the headlines of these portals, that million Serbs have already signed the petition. However, that is not the case. According to the current situation, more than 5.000 have signed the petition.


The authors of the text have drawn from the context a small part of the accompanying text of the petition, stating that in the US, there are over a million American Serbs, and used it to make not only a click bate headline, but also disinform the audience, since nowhere in the text “A million Serbs” is not mentioned in the context of what is written in the headline of the article.

Unlike in4s.net and slobodacg.me, other portals that wrote about petition (politika.co.rs, novosti.rs, time.rs, b92.net, nezavisne.net) tended to present the real situation, having headlines like “The Petition of the US Serbs addressing Trump”.


How the SPP Bots “pushed” the Petition of the US Serbs

Recently, news from a session of the Executive Board of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), where a party official in charge of the Internet team submitted an annual report, leaked in public. The Internet team consists of, of course, bots – party soldiers in charge of posting comments on portals and social networks. According to the report, the SPP has 3.456 bots, that per one year have posted about 10 million comments on 201.717 published news.

Why does this concern us? By analyzing the petition itself and the ways in which it is being expanded and promoted on social networks, we found out that SPP bots are in charge of promoting and disseminating this content on Twitter, while the report from the session confirms that the bots of this party are indeed operational.

The Twitter bot is a simple account managed both by the software and the human hand. Accordingly, such accounts can behave as robots and as human users at different times.

All 17 accounts that we investigated have some of the main features of Internet bots, and using the DFR Lab methodology, we have revealed what these accounts make bots.

In each case, it is important to note that we cannot rely on, or call for only one behavior identification factor, that is bot-like. A combination of factors is important. The three most important are: activity, anonymity and amplification.

Over the last few years, bots have become an inevitable part of online life. Last year only, researchers estimated that only Twitter was home for about 30 million of bots, but there are also other platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram.[2]

Some appear to be designed to deliberately encourage or support certain political candidates and ideas, while others have commercial purposes.

Although this campaign has not significantly contributed to the success of the petition in terms of additional signatures, what is crucial is that people raise awareness of  the very existence of the bots, used to influence them and create specific (political) attitudes. It is less likely that users who themselves can identify the bots will be the victim of their manipulation in the future.


[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kosovo-army/kosovo-approves-new-army-despite-serb-opposition-nato-criticism-idUSKBN1OD16S

[2] https://mashable.com/2018/02/20/how-to-spot-a-bot/

There are several topics that have being recycled for years, and certain media will see to provide some of them with the never-ending shelf life. Considerable share of conspiracy theories, spins, unverified and disinformation narratives on the territory of Montenegro, concerns not as much Montenegro, as the NATO Alliance. Such narratives, playing the emotional card, due to the unpleasant events from 90s, have their target audience, all with the task to further polarize the Montenegrin society and divert the course from relevant and crucial issues for future of our country, but also of the region.

A number of regional media have reported the statement of a NATO official, who said for Pobjeda newspapers the following: “The mission is open for members and partners and we already have Australia, Finland and Sweden participating in it. We would like to compliment participation of Montenegro, since we have excellent relations with your country, although our process of introducing a member may sometimes take a while”, during a briefing at NATO Headquarters, which dealt with the NATO Mission Iraq (NMI). However, partial reporting is utmost unprofessional, all with a view to deceive and provide disinformation to the public, as well as to further discredit NATO Alliance.

What has actually happened?

At NATO Summit in Brussels this July, on the requirements of the Iraqi government, allied leaders launched new training mission in Iraq, named NATO Mission Iraq (NMI). The new mission is based on trainings and efforts with the aim of building capacities, that has already been carried out in Iraq through NATO Training and Capacity Building Activity in Iraq.

The Mission was launched in the end of October and consists of 500 members. Apart from member states, soldiers from Australia, Finland and Sweden have taken part.

source: nato.int

Thus, this is a non-combat mission with the aim of building more efficient, inclusive, sustainable and responsible defense and security structures. Also, it will strive to improve professionalism of Iraq forces and security institutions, by helping Iraq build capacities for preventing ISIS reemerging.

However, unlike Pobjeda, a number of portals, while reporting, has decided to omit crucial part, i.e. non-combat character of the mission, with a view to train people. On the other hand, the emphasis of the narrative was that Montenegrin soldiers are going to fight in Iraq, which caused strong reactions and disapproval expressed through numerous comments posted on portals, knowing that it is a high-risk area of crisis, where the fight against ISIS continues.

Additionally, they referred to the recent statement of the Minister of Defense, Boskovic saying that Montenegro was interested in participating in the mission at logistics positions at the airport in Bagdad, as well as to the statement of the President Djukanovic after the Summit in Brussels, stating that Montenegro Intends to send its soldiers to this venture.

Through headlines such as “Cannon Fodder: The Army of Montenegro – a part of the NATO structures on battlefields in Iraq, Milo’s Army Fighting for American Interests” and selective reporting of the facts, portals, such as in4s.net, b92.net, srbijadanas.com, standard.rs, novosti.rs, kurir.rs, aspire to deceive public when it comes to this sensitive issue.

Spreading disinformation and propaganda through the Internet, especially via social media has been in the center of debates in the last years, due to the severity of the issue, but also because of the urging need to counter that issue, particularly after the US elections in 2016. It should be emphasized that portals b92.netand kurir.rs are the most visited in Serbia, with 36 million views on monthly basis, hence, they not only do harm to their reputation by partial reporting, but also contribute to general level of (dis)information of the society.

[1]https://shape.nato.int/resources/3/images/website/factsheet%20nato%20mission%20iraq_oct18.pdf