Facebook Removes Kremlin-Linked Accounts That Pushed For Release of Russian Operative Maxim Shugaley

The accounts were part of a successful campaign to free Shugaley from a Libyan prison after he was arrested on election-meddling charges.

Now-deleted Facebook page for Russian feature film Shugaley 2 (source)

Via “Stoking Conflict by Keystroke: An Operation Run by IRA-Linked Individuals Targeting Libya, Sudan, and Syria” by Shelby Grossman, Khadeja Ramali, Renée DiResta, Lucas Beissner, Samantha Bradshaw, William Healzer, and Ira Hubert, Stanford Internet Observatory/Graphika, December 15, 2020:

The takedown included a Facebook Page (primarily in Arabic) and Instagram account (primarily in Russian) devoted to a film recounting Russia’s version of the circumstances surrounding the arrest and imprisonment of Russian sociologist Maksim Shugalei (Максим Шугалей) and his translator Samir Seifan in Libya in July 2019. In the “action thriller” film version of events, Shugalei and his interpreter were in Libya on a research mission sponsored by the Foundation for National Values Protection when they uncovered “inconvenient” truths. Because they knew too much, they were arrested, tortured, and thrown in jail by a “puppet government” on completely false charges of meddling in the Libyan election.

In the Western press and the GNA’s version of events, Shugalei and his interpreter were working for people linked to the very same Russian troll farm to which the operations in this takedown have been attributed. Shugalei is a political strategist, a “gun for hire” (per the BBC) who has worked on multiple elections in Russia and achieved some prior media notoriety in 2002 when he ate documents rather than hand them over to a judge during an election dispute. He was, the Libyan government claims, in Libya as part of a Russia-linked operation to promote the political rise of Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the son of former Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi.

The Foundation for National Values Protection, which is helmed by Alexander Malkievich, head of the IRA and RIA-FAN-linked “news” organization USAReally, fundraised to produce the film. Reporting has found that the copyright for the film is held by Aurum LLC, one of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s many endeavors, which have additionally included founding, funding, owning, or being generally involved with the IRA, RIA-FAN, and the Wagner Group. Shugalei aired on Russian state media property RT’s documentary channel. The film, promoted in the Facebook and Instagram Pages bearing its name, was one of numerous made-for-media moments intended to call attention to Shugalei’s plight; others included having him elected in absentia to a regional parliament seat in Russia (the campaign was reportedly funded by Prigozhin), placing sponsored content about the situation in the Washington Post, having Maria Butina (who pled guilty to conspiracy to act as an illegal foreign agent in the United States) run a one-woman protest outside of the Libyan embassy in Russia, and having Charlie Sheen and other duped American actors record messages of support for Shugalei via the paid app Cameo.

The Instagram and Facebook Pages related to Shugalei were primarily marketing communications for the film, and for its sequel, Shugalei-2. Both parts are presently available, including English-dubbed versions, on YouTube. Part 1 of the dubbed version, “Shugalei | A harrowing yet true story of Russian researchers imprisoned by terrorists” has received 748,305 views, and Part 2, “Shugalei-2 | Russian sociologists got involved in the Libyan government’s political game” has received 1,008,796. The Instagram account primarily posted images from the film; there was a promotional hashtag campaign associated with the film in which individuals, and influencers, photographed themselves wearing t-shirts depicting a still from the film. The Facebook Page had 103 posts overall, and included regular updates detailing Malkievich and the Foundation’s efforts to pressure Libya into releasing Shugalei and Seifan, as well as quotes about the matter from prominent Russian figures such as Vladimir Putin and Alexander Dugin.

The removals were part of a larger crackdown on “coordinated inauthentic behavior” by foreign government-linked entities, as Facebook announced in a separate statement on its site yesterday (Twitter also removed roughly 30 accounts that participated in the Shugaley campaign, according to Stanford’s report):

Today we removed three separate networks for violating our policy against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB) on behalf of a foreign or government entity. These networks originated in France and Russia and targeted multiple countries in North Africa and the Middle East.

In each case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts as a central part of their operations to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing, and that was the basis for our action…

1. We removed 84 Facebook accounts, 6 Pages, 9 Groups and 14 Instagram accounts for violating our policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior. This activity originated in France and targeted primarily the Central African Republic and Mali, and to a lesser extent Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Chad…

2. We also removed 63 Facebook accounts, 29 Pages, 7 Groups and 1 Instagram account for coordinated inauthentic behavior. This network originated in Russia and focused primarily on the Central African Republic (CAR), and to a lesser extent on Madagascar, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, South Africa and the CAR diaspora in France…

3. We also removed 211 Facebook accounts, 126 Page, 16 Groups and 17 Instagram accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior. This network originated in Russia and focused primarily on Libya, Sudan and Syria.

In September, Facebook appeared to remove two paid ads for the Shugaley sequel from its platform and from the Instagram account mentioned in Stanford’s report.

Here is a screenshot of the now-deleted ads:

The ads were removed after I contacted Facebook while researching a story I co-authored with Foreign Policy’s National Security and Intelligence reporter Amy Mackinnon, “How Russia Tried to Weaponize Charlie Sheen,” also cited in Stanford’s report.

In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson told me that any individuals associated with the Russian Internet Research Agency are banned from Facebook as part of its coordinated inauthentic behaviour enforcement. The spokesperson declined to share the names and contact information of the person or entity who placed the ads, citing privacy reasons.

The Russian-language Facebook page for the Shugaley film is still online. Facebook’s “Page transparency” feature states that two people from Russia currently manage the page.

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Facebook Mislabels Historically Accurate Posts by Gay Rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell as “Partly False”

Tatchell correctly identified Henry Kissinger as the architect of an illegal U.S. bombing campaign that potentially killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians. Facebook’s fact-checkers disagreed.

Update, November 24, 2020: Facebook has removed its disclaimer from Tatchell’s posts, but did not return a request for comment.

British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has long been a thorn in the side of Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State under Richard Nixon. In 2002, for example, Tatchell attempted to have Kissinger arrested and tried for Nixon’s illegal bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War, which historians estimate resulted in civilian and military deaths upwards of 300,000.

As Tatchell recounted in two identical posts on Facebook and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) yesterday:

[Kissinger] had authorised the mass indiscriminate bombing of Cambodia in the early 1970s, which killed possibly hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. The judge accepted that there was a potential legal case against Kissinger and even discussed with me where he could be held on remand awaiting trial. But in the end the court doubted that I had the capacity to bring former Nixon administration officials to London to testify as to Kissinger’s culpability. I did not succeed but only on the matter of being able to secure witness testimony in London.

Historical texts and news reports appear to support that: Kissinger was a key architect of the Cambodian bombing campaigns; that estimated casualties, while difficult to calculate with any precision, were likely in the hundreds of thousands; and that Tatchell brought a legal case against Kissinger in 2002, which was thrown out due to the presiding judge’s “serious misgivings” over Tatchell’s ability to secure evidence in the form of witness testimony.

Despite containing seemingly accurate information, Tatchell’s posts were restricted by Facebook’s fact-checking team and given the following boilerplate disclaimer: “Partly false information. The same information was checked in another post by independent fact-checkers.”

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The disclaimer doesn’t identify which aspects of Tatchell’s posts are allegedly false, merely stating: “Only two of the quotes here are close to correct.”

But it does contain a link to an April 15, 2019 article by Facebook’s partnered fact-checking website FactCheck.org, “What Kissinger Has Said About Trump,” which says nothing about Kissinger’s role in the bombing of Cambodia or Tatchell’s 2002 legal case.

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I’ve asked Facebook for comment.

In the meantime, Tatchell has posted on Instagram about the errant fact-check:

“Hi Everyone. @instagram is flagging my post earlier today about Henry Kissinger as ‘partly false’ on the grounds that Kissinger did not say certain things that I supposedly claimed he said about #Trump. But I never mentioned Trump or anything that #Kissinger may have said about Trump. I was highlighting the evidence that Kissinger authorised war crimes in #Cambodia in the 1970s. Algorithms gone mad? #instagram should apologise and remove the flag from my post. So far they have not :-(“