An analysis of the Facebook page ‘Russkaya Litva’ (Russian Lithuania), showed an entire network of interconnected accounts has been growing on social networking platforms for years. Its aim was to spread pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives and conspiracy theories. Bot accounts were also used to amplify disinformation.
The concept of ‘Russian World’ thrives not only on Kremlin propaganda channels; fringe social media groups are no exception. During the initial research of disinformation actors active in Lithuania, it became evident that a Facebook page ‘Russkaya Litva’, which was the biggest disinformation page in the country based on the number of followers, is a prominent channel for pro-Kremlin narratives. At its peak, 100 thousand accounts were subscribed to ‘Russkaya Litva’ (Eng. ‘Russian Lithuania’), and the content shared on this page was viewed tens of millions of times. Between January 2021 and June 2022, almost 5 thousand posts were published on the page, which together generated almost 2 million reactions. Videos were viewed more than 63 million times.
A few days after the invasion, ‘Russkaya Litva’ page started spreading disinformation about the alleged retreat and surrender of Ukrainian troops and the negative impact on the West of the EU and US sanctions:
The page was administered by a person managing the account ‘Vladimiras K.’, who, through using various other false accounts and communication channels (including VKontakte, Odnoklassniki, Telegram, the YouTube channel ‘Master Kosmosa,’ etc.), created a network to promote anti-Western attitudes, conspiracy theories, and pro-Russian propaganda. Those were his ‘sock puppet accounts’ – when a real person is pretending to be somebody else online.
The administrator of 'Russkaya Litva' FB page has been an active disinformation actor for at least 8 years (starting soon before the Russian invasion in Crimea).
‘Russkaya Litva’ also acted as an amplifier of Russian propaganda and disinformation fringe channels on YouTube, which in total have reach of more than 3.7 million subscribers and were viewed 1.7 billion times.
The analysis shows that 90% of content pieces on this page were dedicated to posts with links to YouTube videos. Debunk.org analysts checked 690 such links. Notably, 307 of them were no longer active, meaning that the content had been removed or blocked. Presumably, they contained harmful or disinformation content and were removed by YouTube, which, as of late, increased its efforts to remove channels and videos spreading false information and Russian propaganda. Analysis of links made it possible to determine which YT channels were shared the most frequently by ‘Russkaya Litva’.
In the run-up to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the number of followers of ‘Russkaya Litva’ started increasing rapidly. Posts published on the second day of the war (February 25, 2022) reached an unusually high number of reactions, many of which, according to the analysis, were artificially generated.
The case study in this analysis is focused on examining inauthentic metrics of reactions to a video of Sergey Lavrov’s speech on the first day of the Russian invasion to Ukraine. This post alone had sparked 73 thousand reactions and was viewed 2.5 million times, making it the most impactful content piece of the Lithuanian FB pages and groups monitored by Debunk.org. The analysis led to a conclusion that the extreme popularity of this post was inauthentic. The same day page shared several other posts with pro-Russian propaganda, including an excerpt from Putin's speech, a dissident's call for the Ukrainian army to abandon weapons, or scenes showing captured Ukrainian soldiers uttering (presumably coerced) confessions.
Furthermore, a considerable number of the analyzed profiles, which followed 'Russkaya Litva', raise suspicions about their authenticity. It became apparent that many accounts were created in 2019 and belonged supposedly to users from Ukraine. Some of suspicious accounts shared propaganda, sometimes multiple posts in a short period of time, while others on the contrary – had almost no activity on their profiles. Some accounts had hundreds of pages in the ‘liked’ section and, interestingly, despite such a huge number, the majority of ‘likes’ overlapped for different users.
Notably, followers of the page had a special characteristic in common – profiles of many users who followed ‘Russkaya Litva’ liked pages that were fake profiles pretending to be Ukrainian women. Fake users were set up at similar times and their location pointed at two districts in Kyiv. The accounts were most probably created with SIM cards, as many have Ukrainian phone numbers displayed. Moreover, those pages were categorized as “video games” – most probably to avoid detection and grow more “mature”, gain credibility, and then be used by their creators.
This discovery is reminiscent of the Russian bot farms, discovered by the Ukrainian Security Service in 2022. 5 farms with 100,000 fake accounts were shut down in March, a dozen farms with 50,000 bots in April, 50,000 accounts in October, and another 13 farms with more than 100,000 accounts in December.
Following an investigation by LRT's Investigations Team and Debunk.org, information about ‘Russkaya Litva’ was passed on to Meta Threat Intelligence team. Lithuanian activists also reported the page en masse to Facebook moderators and it was eventually shut down. However, the bot accounts that artificially increased the visibility of the content disseminated on the page were not removed.
Following the take down of the original ‘Russkaya Litva’ page, another page operated by the ‘Vladimiras K.’ account, ‘Lithuania.ru’, was renamed to ‘Russkaya Litva’. The content was published daily and in large volumes (possibly partly automated).
However, the new ‘Russkaya Litva’ page was also closed. The main Facebook page run by the administrator is now ‘Lithuania.ru’. The number of new followers has not changed much since June 2022. Recently, the administrator of the Telegram channel ‘Russkaya Litva’ also announced that he was ‘closing the Facebook channel’. However, his other social media channels remain active.