There were hundreds of them, and they achieved tens of thousands of shares and hundreds of thousands of views. As of early November, MIT Technology Review found dozens of duplicate fake live videos from this time frame still standing. One repeat pair with more than 200,000 and 160,000 views, respectively, was announced in Burmese, “I’m the only one broadcasting live from across the country in real time.” Facebook has deleted several of them after we brought them to his attention, but dozens of other pages, in addition to the ones you posted, still exist. Osborne said the company is aware of the problem and has significantly reduced and distributed these fake spirits over the past year.
Ironically, Rio believes, the videos were likely extracted from footage of the crisis uploaded to YouTube as evidence of human rights. In other words, the scenes are actually from Myanmar – but they were all posted from Vietnam and Cambodia.
Over the past half year, Rio has tracked and identified several sets of pages executed from Vietnam and Cambodia. Many have used fake live videos to quickly build their follower numbers and get viewers to join Facebook groups masquerading as pro-democracy communities. Ryo is now concerned that Facebook’s recent rollout of in-stream ads in live videos will motivate more clickbait actors to fake them. An 18-page Cambodian group started spreading highly destructive political disinformation, reaching a total of 16 million posts and an audience of 1.6 million in four months. Facebook suspended all 18 Pages in March, but new groups continued to rotate while others remained.
For all Rio knows, these Vietnamese and Cambodian actors don’t speak Burmese. They probably don’t understand Burmese culture or the country’s politics. The bottom line is that they don’t need to. Not when they steal their content.
Since then, Rio has found several private Facebook and Telegram groups for Cambodians (one with over 3,000 individuals), where they share tools and tips on the best money-making strategies. MIT Technology Review reviewed the documents, photos, and videos it collected, and hired a Khmer translator to interpret a video tutorial that guides viewers step-by-step through the clickbait course of action.
The material shows how Cambodian operators collect research on the best performing content in each country and plagiarize them for their websites. The Google Drive shared folder within the community contains more than twenty spreadsheets of links to the most popular Facebook groups in 20 countries, including the US, UK, Australia, India, France, Germany, Mexico and Brazil.
The video tutorial also shows how they find the most popular YouTube videos in different languages and use an automated tool to convert each clip into an article for their site. We found 29 YouTube channels spreading political misinformation about the current political situation in Myanmar, for example, which have been turned into clickbait articles and redistributed to new audiences on Facebook.
After we brought the channels to our attention, YouTube terminated all of these channels for violating our Community Guidelines, including 7 of them it determined were part of the coordinated influence operations associated with Myanmar. Choi noted that YouTube had previously also stopped showing ads on nearly 2,000 videos across these channels. “We continue to actively monitor our platforms to prevent bad actors looking to misuse our network for profit,” she said.
Then there are other tools, including one that allows pre-recorded videos to appear as Facebook live videos. Another tool randomly generates profile details for American men, including photo, name, date of birth, Social Security number, phone number, and address, so another tool can create fake Facebook accounts using some of this information.
It is now easy to do as many Cambodian actors are working as soloists. Rio calls them micro-entrepreneurs. In the most extreme scenario, she saw individuals managing as many as 11,000 Facebook accounts themselves.
Successful micro-entrepreneurs also train others to do this work in their community. “It’s only going to get worse,” she says. “Any atmosphere in the world can affect your information environment without you even realizing it.”