In Brief

Russian agency behind US election meddling ‘created fake left-wing news site’

Facebook says real reporters were hired by fake editors to write about US corruption

Several left-wing US journalists have unwittingly been working for the Russian intelligence agency that helped to put Donald Trump in power, Facebook has revealed.

The duped reporters were hired by agents masquerading as editors of a news website called Peace Data, which had advertised for “writers for the following topics: anti-war, corruption, abuse of power, human rights violations”.

The website “presented the US as war-mongering and law-breaking abroad while being wracked by racism, Covid-19, and cutthroat capitalism at home”, according to social media analysis company Graphika.

Facebook “learned through a tip from the FBI” that the site was run by “people formerly associated with the Russian Internet Research Agency, which created a number of influential Twitter and Facebook personas to inflame political tensions in the 2016 election”, says NBC News.

The agency - widely regarded as an arm of the Russian state - created “fictitious” editors who offered freelance reporters between $75 (£55) and $250 (£185) per article, The Guardian reports.

Photographs of Peace Data’s non-existent editorial staff “were created using Generative Adversarial Networks, a type of AI that can produce lifelike images of faces”, the newspaper adds.

Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said the discovery of the website confirms that “Russian actors are trying to target the 2020 election”.

However, he added, Peace Data did not attract a large following - illustrating a broader problem for the Russian intelligence services.

“You can run a loud, noisy influence campaign like the one we saw in 2016, and you get caught very quickly, or you can try to run a much more subtle campaign, which is what this looks like,” Gleicher said.

“When you run a subtle influence campaign, you’re sort of working at cross-purposes with yourself. You don’t get a lot of attention for it.”

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