Meta announced Facebook and Instagram accounts promoting US interests abroad had ties with the US military on Tuesday.
According to the tech giant, a network of fake accounts was promoting the interests by targeting Afghanistan and Central Asia audiences.
The announcement marks a rare case of a US entity tying an online influence operation to Washington instead of a foreign government.
Meta removed over three-dozen Facebook and two-dozen Instagram accounts for violating the platform’s policy against “inauthentic coordinated behavior.”
While they traced it to the military, Meta did not name a specific US military command.
However, the Pentagon opened a sweeping review in September, covering units engaged in online influence operations.
The Washington Post previously reported that US Central Command was among those reviewed.
Meta claimed that it removed the fraudulent Facebook accounts.
It also added that the US was helping the country of Tajikistan secure its border with Afghanistan.
Additionally, Meta claimed that Washington was key to the region’s stability.
Researchers from analytics firm Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory documented the activity in a report in August.
In addition, the research says that Afghanistan-related posts peaked over strategic importance periods for the US.
It includes the months before the US military’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August last year.
On Tuesday, Meta said that the people behind the accounts took extra steps to hide their identities.
As a result, the activity gained little traction from actual Facebook and Instagram users.
A former US official who focused on Russia issues lamented the ineffective influence operation and/or the fact that the US military tried at all.
Gavin Wilde oversaw Russia’s malign influence and cyber issues at the National Security Council in 2018 and 2019.
He is now a senior scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Regarding the Meta issue, Wilde said:
“I get the impulse, which is prevalent in military circles, that ‘the only way to lose is not to play’ in the information domain.”
“However, if their methodology gambles away the transparency and credibility the US wants to claim as benchmarks of an alternative to the Russian or Chinese model, is the payoff really worth it?”