In the hours after Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, social media platforms alluded to users in the country being at increased risk of their accounts being manipulated, a tactic Russia has used to spread disinformation for years.
The recommendations, from Twitter’s corporate account and Facebook’s director of threat intelligence, ranged from what to do if your account was hacked to preemptively closing an account for safety concerns. Overall, the platforms encouraged users to be mindful of how they operated on the internet, as they are at increased risk due to the conflict.
In encouraging people in Ukraine to to protect their accounts on Thursday, Twitter did not mention Russia by name, but posted a thread on avoiding manipulation and listing various methods how to do so. It offered tips and guides on “how to control your account and digital information,” first telling users to simply deactivate their accounts if they felt unsafe. Then it explained what to do if an account had been hacked, how to know if it had been, and suggested not tweeting locations. It explained how to disable location tracking on a smartphone altogether. It posted the tips in English, Ukrainian, and Russian.
Some hours later, David Agranovich, Meta’s director of threat intelligence, said on Twitter that the company, which recently changed its name from Facebook, added additional features on Wednesday night for users in Ukraine to protect their accounts.
Writing entirely in Ukrainian, Agranovich said any user in the region now had a one-click tool to effectively lock their profiles and add security to them, something the company had previously rolled out in select countries in “dangerous situations,” like Afghanistan. He also linked to several outside guides offering steps for anyone living or working in Ukraine to protect their digital files and devices.
“It is important for journalists and activists in Ukraine (and other vulnerable groups),” Agranovich wrote, “to remember that Meta is only one element of the online ecosystem.”
These companies also face the challenge of increased misinformation on the platforms. The amount of false information on Twitter and Facebook has steadily increased over the last week, according to Cyabra, a platform that monitors disinformation. Since Feb. 14, content referring to Ukraine in a negative way on Twitter has increased 11,000%. The firm also found that 56% of all content about Ukraine on Facebook and Twitter over the last two weeks was created by “inauthentic profiles,” like bots or puppet accounts.
Russia has long used social media to manipulate political events, often, though not always, by creating and amplifying intentionally false or misleading isinformation. The country used a sophisticated social media misinformation scheme involving hundreds of thousands of fake accounts in attempt to influence the result of the 2016 US election, according to special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report. Russia used similar methods in 2011 to obscure posts questioning or protesting the results of its own parliamentary elections.
A Twitter spokeswoman said the platform is “proactively monitoring for emerging narratives” that violate its use rules, including “identifying and disrupting attempts to amplify false and misleading information and to advance the speed and scale of our enforcement.”
Representatives from Facebook, TikTok and YouTube did not respond to requests for comment about their strategy or moderation efforts around Russia-Ukraine content. In a separate post to Twitter, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy did say the company had formed “a special operations center to respond in real time” to the conflict and content around it.
“It is staffed by experts (including native speakers) so we can closely monitor the situation and act as fast as possible,” Gleicher added.