A slew of clues

Researchers at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFR) had been investigating those pages at the same time as Facebook. They were more transparent about the methods they used to link the social media pages with the Kremlin-backed news services. The evidence they collected shows that operators of the propaganda campaigns didn’t take too much trouble to hide their tracks, or weren’t very good at it.

Some covert Facebook pages included a link to Sputnik in their personal information sections; others openly stated they were based in Russia, were operated by former Sputnik employees, or cited the Russian news service in their posts, Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said on Twitter.

The DFR lab also observed pages cross-posting videos from Sputnik and TOK. Cross-posting, which can be easily identified, can only happen if both sides agree to it, an obvious indication of collaboration. Pages from different countries would also post the same content at the same time, suggesting some form of international coordination between supposedly independent pages.

When a Latvian reporter, tipped on the campaign by DFR researchers, asked Sputnik Latvia’s chief Valentīns Rožencovs about some of the covert Facebook pages, he confirmed his company was running them. He called them “normal content promotion.”

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