There were hundreds, tens of thousands of engagements and hundreds of thousands of views. In early November, the MIT Technology Review found dozens of duplicate fake live videos from that time period. A pair of duplicates with more than 200,000 and 160,000 views, respectively, announced in Burmese: “I am the only one who broadcasts live from all over the country in real time.” Facebook took down a few of them after we brought them to his attention, but dozens more, as well as the pages that posted them, still remain. Osborne said the company is aware of the problem and has significantly reduced these fake lives and their prevalence over the past year.
Ironically, Rio believes the videos were probably taken from footage of the crisis, uploaded to YouTube as evidence of human rights. In other words, the scenes are indeed from Myanmar, but they were all published by Vietnam and Cambodia.
Over the past six months, Rio has tracked and identified several groups of pages exhausted by Vietnam and Cambodia. Many used fake live videos to quickly increase the number of their followers and get viewers to join Facebook groups disguised as pro-democracy communities. Rio is now worried that Facebook’s latest deployment of streaming ads in live videos will further encourage click entrants to counterfeit them. An 18-page Cambodian cluster began publishing highly harmful political disinformation, reaching a total of 16 million commitments and an audience of 1.6 million in four months. Facebook took down all 18 pages in March, but new clusters continue to grow, while others remain.
As far as Rio knows, these Vietnamese and Cambodian actors do not speak Burmese. They probably do not understand the Burmese culture or politics of the country. The bottom line is that they don’t need it. Not when they steal their contents.
Since then, Rio has opened several of the Cambodians’ private groups on Facebook and Telegram (one with more than 3,000 people), where they trade tools and advice on the best strategies for making money. The MIT Technology Review reviewed the documents, images, and videos she collected, and hired a Khmer translator to interpret a tutorial video that guides viewers step-by-step through the click-to-click workflow.
The materials show how Cambodian operators collect research on the most effective content in each country and plagiarize it for their click-to-click websites. A shared Google Drive folder has two dozen spreadsheets with links to the most popular Facebook groups in 20 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, France, Germany, Mexico, and Brazil.
The tutorial video also shows how they find the most viral videos on YouTube in different languages and use an automated tool to turn each of them into an article for their site. We found 29 YouTube channels spreading political misinformation about the current political situation in Myanmar, for example, which were converted into click-to-click articles and redistributed to a new Facebook audience.
After attracting the attention of the channels, YouTube suspended all of them for violating community rules, including 7 of which it determined to be part of coordinated influence operations related to Myanmar. Choi noted that YouTube had also previously stopped showing ads in nearly 2,000 videos on those channels. “We continue to actively monitor our platforms to prevent abuse of our profit network,” she said.
Then there are other tools, including one that allows pre-recorded videos to appear as fake live videos on Facebook. Another randomly generates account details for men in the United States, including an image, name, birthday, Social Security number, phone number, and address, so another tool can massively create fake Facebook accounts using some of that information.
It is now so easy to do that many Cambodian actors work independently. Rio calls them micro-entrepreneurs. In the most extreme scenario, she has seen individuals manage up to 11,000 Facebook accounts on their own.
Successful micro-entrepreneurs also train others to do this work in their community. “It’s going to get worse,” she said. “Every Joe in the world could influence your information environment without realizing it.”