Google Discontinues Translate Service in Mainland China

Google has ended its Google Translate service in mainland China, citing “low usage” of one of its flagship products by mainland China users.

The move surprised users, who said they first noticed not being able to access the function over the weekend.

“The Google Translate mobile app was also discontinued a year ago in 2021,” a Google spokesperson told VOA on Monday in response to a request for further details on the company’s decision.

The translation service had been available to mainland Chinese users since 2017.

While The Associated Press reported Monday that “it is not clear how many users were using Google Translate in China,” the South China Morning Post cited an international data tracking company’s figure of 53.5 million visits to the platform in the month of August alone.

AP noted that “the translation feature built into the Google Chrome browser also no longer functions for users in China.”

Wei Jingsheng, a leading Chinese dissident living in exile in the United States, told VOA in a phone interview Monday that in his view, Google has been trying to put on a “balancing act” — maintaining its reputation and credibility as a global internet giant operating around the world while finding a space to operate in the highly restrictive environment in China.

“It is safe to anticipate that the company is constantly under pressure from the Chinese government to meet its demands,” Wei told VOA.

“We don’t know what exactly lay behind Google’s decision to pull its translation service from China. Fifty-three-point-five million is not a small number,” he said, referring to the figured quoted by South China Morning Post.

Difficult foothold

Google said its mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” But as various media have reported, the California-based internet giant’s path to spreading its wings in mainland China over the past two decades has not been smooth.

The company pulled its search engine from the Chinese market in 2010 after the company became unwilling to abide by China’s censorship rules, AP reported on Monday.

Chinese platforms must “strictly” abide by Chinese authorities’ censorship rules and “censor keywords and topics the authorities deem politically sensitive,” AP said.

AP added that China later moved to block other Google services such as Gmail and Google Maps and noted that Google was not alone in being blocked or otherwise restricted. Chinese users are also not allowed to have Facebook accounts.

Media outlets including TechCrunch — which was the first to report Google’s shutdown of the translation platform — noted that Google’s decision came two weeks before the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, scheduled to begin on October 16.

“The Chinese government has previously blocked Google services around major political events and politically sensitive anniversaries like that of the Tiananmen Square massacre,” the online publication of high-tech news said.

Google did not respond to VOA’s question about any potential connection between the translation service being discontinued and the Communist Party Congress.

Although China boasts the world’s largest internet market, when it comes to political topics, Chinese authorities are known to impose strict limitations as to what information Chinese citizens can access or have the freedom to discuss.

Official versions of political events like the upcoming Communist Party Congress are routinely disseminated from national media down to provincial, city, county, township and village levels through a vast network of state media.

Wei explained that Chinese citizens often turn to foreign sources to get a fuller picture of what goes on behind the scenes at the Congress and other news about their own country, due to a lack of trust in official media.

“They can just copy and paste foreign-language text” and get it translated into their native language with Google Translate, he said.

“People often feel that there’s better privacy protection when they use Google and other foreign companies’ products,” Wei added, since Chinese domestic companies are uniformly obligated to comply with government requests for user information.

State institutions taking notice

Although Google Maps and now Google Translate are not accessible to ordinary Chinese users, Chinese state institutions, including state media, have been paying attention to Google’s capacity.

On April 18, two months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, People’s Daily Online, one of China’s leading state media, posted on Weibo — a Twitter- and Instagram-like social platform — a China Central Television report that Google Maps provided satellite imaging of “all of Russia’s military and strategic assets with the highest definition.”

That post received 123,000 “likes,” and was reposted more than 5,200 times. A commentator under the name of “boyfriend of the nation” wrote, “Look everyone, this is what we will encounter later on.”

A Musk Retweet: Tesla CEO Says He’ll Pay $44 Billion to Buy Twitter

The tumultuous saga of Elon Musk’s on-again, off-again purchase of Twitter took a turn toward a conclusion Tuesday after the mercurial Tesla CEO proposed to buy the company at the originally agreed-on price of $44 billion. 

Musk made the proposal in a letter to Twitter that the company disclosed in a filing Tuesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It came less than two weeks before a trial between the two parties was scheduled to start in Delaware. 

In a statement, Twitter said it intends to close the transaction at $54.20 per share after receiving the letter from Musk. 

Trading in Twitter’s stock, which had been halted for much of the day pending release of the news, resumed late Tuesday and soared 22% to close at $52. 

Musk’s proposal is the latest twist in a high-profile saga involving the world’s richest man and one of the most influential social media platforms. Much of the drama has played out on Twitter itself, with Musk — who has more than 100 million followers — lamenting that the company was failing to live up to its potential as a platform for free speech. 

A letter from Musk’s lawyer dated Monday and disclosed by Twitter in a securities filing said Musk would close the merger signed in April, provided that the Delaware Chancery Court “enter an immediate stay” of Twitter’s lawsuit against him and adjourn the trial scheduled to start October 17. 

By completing the deal, Musk essentially gave Twitter what it was seeking from the court — “specific performance” of the contract with Musk, meaning he would have to go through with the purchase at the original price. The contract Musk signed also has a $1 billion breakup fee. 

Eric Talley, a law professor at Columbia University, said he’s not surprised by Musk’s turnaround, especially ahead of a scheduled deposition of Musk by Twitter attorneys starting Thursday that was “not going to be pleasant.” 

“On the legal merits, his case didn’t look that strong,” Talley said. “It kind of seemed like a pretty simple buyer’s remorse case.” 

If Musk were to lose the trial, the judge could not only force him to close the deal but also impose interest payments that would have increased its cost, Talley said. 

What did surprise Talley is that Musk doesn’t appear to be trying to renegotiate the deal. Even a modest price reduction might have given Musk a “moral victory” and the ability to say he got something out of the protracted dispute, Talley said. 

Neither Twitter nor attorneys for Musk responded to requests for comment Tuesday. 

Musk has been trying to back out of the deal for several months after signing on to buy the San Francisco company in April. Shareholders have already approved the sale, and legal experts say Musk faced a huge challenge to defend against Twitter’s lawsuit, which was filed in July. 

Musk claimed that Twitter undercounted the number of fake accounts on its platform, and Twitter sued when Musk announced the deal was off. 

Musk’s argument largely rested on the allegation that Twitter misrepresented how it measures the magnitude of “spam bot” accounts that are useless to advertisers. Most legal experts believe he faced an uphill battle to convince Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick, the court’s head judge, that something changed since the April merger agreement that justifies terminating the deal. 

Legal experts said Musk may have anticipated that he would lose. Things haven’t been going well for him in court recently, with the judge ruling more frequently in Twitter’s favor on evidentiary matters, said Ann Lipton, an associate law professor at Tulane University. The judge denied several of Musk’s discovery requests, Lipton said. 

It’s also possible that Musk’s co-investors in the deal were starting to get nervous about how the case was proceeding, she said. 

Musk’s main argument for terminating the deal – that Twitter was misrepresenting how it measured its “spam bot” problem – also didn’t appear to be going well as Twitter had been working to pick apart Musk’s attempts to get third-party data scientists to bolster his concerns. 

Mysteriously, neither Musk nor Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal have written anything about the deal on Twitter. 

If the deal does go through, Musk may be stuck with a company he damaged with repeated statements denouncing fake accounts, Susannah Streeter, senior markets analyst for Hargreaves Lansdown in the United Kingdom, wrote in an investor note. 

“This is an important metric considered to be key for future revenue streams via paid advertising or for subscriptions on the site, and his relentless scrutiny of Twitter’s figures over the last few months is likely to prompt questions from potential advertising partners,” she wrote. 

 

US Supreme Court Will Hear Social Media Terrorism Lawsuits

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will hear two cases seeking to hold social media companies financially responsible for terrorist attacks. 

Relatives of people killed in terrorist attacks in France and Turkey had sued Google, Twitter and Facebook. They accused the companies of helping terrorists spread their message and radicalize new recruits. 

The court will hear the cases this term, which began Monday, with a decision expected before the court recesses for the summer, usually in late June. The court did not say when it would hear arguments, but the court has already filled its argument calendar for October and November. 

One of the cases the justices will hear involves Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old U.S. citizen studying in Paris. The Cal State Long Beach student was one of 130 people killed in Islamic State group attacks in November 2015. The attackers struck cafes, outside the French national stadium and inside the Bataclan theater. Gonzalez died in an attack at La Belle Equipe bistro. 

Gonzalez’s relatives sued Google, which owns YouTube, saying the platform had helped the Islamic State group by allowing it to post hundreds of videos that helped incite violence and recruit potential supporters. Gonzalez’s relatives said that the company’s computer algorithms recommended those videos to viewers most likely to be interested in them. 

But a judge dismissed the case and a federal appeals court upheld the ruling. Under U.S. law — specifically Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — internet companies are generally exempt from liability for the material users post on their networks. 

The other case the court agreed to hear involves Jordanian citizen Nawras Alassaf. He died in the 2017 attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul where a gunman affiliated with the Islamic State killed 39 people. 

Alassaf’s relatives sued Twitter, Google and Facebook for aiding terrorism, arguing that the platforms helped the Islamic State grow and did not go far enough in trying to curb terrorist activity on their platforms. A lower court let the case proceed. 

 

FBI Joins Australian Hunt for Data Hackers

Australia has asked the American FBI to help catch computer hackers responsible for one of Australia’s biggest data breaches. Personal details, including home addresses, driver license and passport numbers, of more than 10 million customers of the Singapore-owned telecom giant Optus were stolen.

A massive amount of personal information about Optus customers in Australia was stolen and an extortion threat made to the company. But then there was an apparent twist. An apology was issued on an online forum by an account that investigators believe belonged to the alleged hacker, who had been unnerved by the attention the case had generated.

“Too many eyes,” it read. “We will not sale (sic) data to anyone. Sorry to 10.2m Australians whose data was leaked. Ransom not paid but we don’t care anymore.”

The Australian government has blamed Optus, one of the biggest telecommunications companies in the country, for the breach. Australia’s cybersecurity minister, Clare O’Neil, said the company had made it easy for hackers to get in.

“What is of concern for us is how what is quite a basic hack was undertaken on Optus,” she said. “We should not have a telecommunications provider in this country which has effectively left the window open for data of this nature to be stolen.”

But Optus Chief Executive Officer Kelly Bayer Rosmarin denied the company’s cyber defenses were inadequate. She said the data was encrypted and there were multiple layers of protection. But for many Optus customers, there is deep anxiety that their personal information has been compromised.

The FBI has joined the hunt for the Optus data thieves.

Frank Montoya Jr, a former FBI special agent, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that a foreign government could be involved.

“We try to determine if it is a nation state or if it is a criminal enterprise,” he said. “Now, that can be a challenge, too, because sometimes the nation state is the criminal enterprise, and I think of North Korea, for instance, and how they go after these databases for various reasons. But sometimes it is just about selling it on the dark web so they can get access to hard currency.”

Australian cyber security experts have warned that unless companies do more to protect their customers’ personal information, a data breach like the Optus theft could happen again.

Nations Must Work Together to Fight Online Fraud, UN Official Says

A top U.N. official last week said the syndicates running Asia’s massive online fraud industry will rotate operations among lawless areas of Southeast Asia unless governments cooperate to bring them down, after Cambodia said it was cracking down on cybercrime compounds.

The networks have swindled hundreds of millions of dollars, regional police have told VOA, setting up fake profiles offering romance, moonshot investment schemes with huge returns or posing as police officers to solicit payoffs. They target residents of countries from China to Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, the United States and Australia.

“The response needs to be strategic and regional, because today it might be a location in Cambodia but tomorrow a group uproots under pressure and shifts to Myanmar, Laos or the Philippines,” Jeremy Douglas, the Bangkok-based regional representative of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime told VOA.

“Until governments across the region address, disrupt and police the places organized crime groups are using to run online casinos, scams and other illicit businesses, and in particular special economic zones and autonomous regions, the situation won’t fundamentally change,” he said.

Compounds for industrial-scale scamming in are operated in converted casinos in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, as well as special economic zones in Myanmar and Laos by Chinese gangsters who dominate regional gambling but lost their main income source during the pandemic, according to Douglas and victims who spoke to VOA.

The foot soldiers of the operations are young Chinese and Southeast Asians. Some joined willingly, many others thought they had obtained high-paying overseas work in call centers or online sales.

Malaysian, Taiwanese and Thai officials have said hundreds of their citizens remain trapped in a Myanmar border zone tied to scam operations, run by ethnic militias and beyond the law, despite its location a few hundred meters from Thailand.

Chou Bun Eng, vice chair of Cambodia’s National Committee for Counter Trafficking in persons, said Cambodia is a victim of sophisticated criminal gangs and is doing everything it can to put the syndicates out of business.

“We began an operation on August 22 throughout the kingdom,” she told VOA by phone.

“We are aware that there are victims all over the kingdom in what is a new form of crime committed by foreigners. … Cambodia does not serve criminals,” she said.

Social media videos since the crackdown have shown thousands of people apparently leaving several Sihanoukville megacompounds, in images shared by Douglas.

State media in China, the source of most of the workers and the biggest target, said the country is barring its citizens from traveling to Cambodia without good reason and warned telecommunications companies that they could be held responsible for scams carried out over their networks.

On Sept. 23, however, Cambodian authorities said at least one person had died after a boat carrying dozens of Chinese people sank on its way to Sihanoukville. Cambodian  state media Fresh News said they had traveled from, Guangdong, hundreds of kilometers away. The incident is suspected of being tied to scam operations and now under investigation.

Ransoms and beatings

Disturbing testimony has emerged from scam agents who tried to leave the compounds, including reports of routine torture, sale to other networks and ransom payments required to gain freedom.

A 26-year-old Thai mother of three, told VOA she asked to quit her job in Manila after six days when she was forced to swindle women online.

She said she took an online sales job in early August, desperate for the $1,000 salary plus commissions. She said she soon realized her real job was to steal the identity of wealthy Thai men and persuade women looking for love to transfer money.

When she refused to work, she was taken to a room with others who had also refused.

“One by one, they took us out to kick, punch, claw our hair and zap us with electric wire,” she said, asking that her name not be used, out of fear of reprisal.

“They forced the head of one of the older women underwater in the bathroom and then beat her some more.”

It took another 14 days for her to get free with a $3,000 payment to break her verbal agreement and she returned to Bangkok on Aug. 27.

Once back, her boyfriend had to sell the equipment for his T-shirt business, sinking them further into money troubles, which had led to her leave Thailand in the first place.

Rohingya Seek Reparations from Facebook for Role in Massacre

With roosters crowing in the background as he speaks from the crowded refugee camp in Bangladesh that’s been his home since 2017, Maung Sawyeddollah, 21, describes what happened when violent hate speech and disinformation targeting the Rohingya minority in Myanmar began to spread on Facebook.

“We were good with most of the people there. But some very narrow minded and very nationalist types escalated hate against Rohingya on Facebook,” he said. “And the people who were good, in close communication with Rohingya. changed their mind against Rohingya and it turned to hate.”

For years, Facebook, now called Meta Platforms Inc., pushed the narrative that it was a neutral platform in Myanmar that was misused by malicious people, and that despite its efforts to remove violent and hateful material, it unfortunately fell short. That narrative echoes its response to the role it has played in other conflicts around the world, whether the 2020 election in the U.S. or hate speech in India.

But a new and comprehensive report by Amnesty International states that Facebook’s preferred narrative is false. The platform, Amnesty says, wasn’t merely a passive site with insufficient content moderation. Instead, Meta’s algorithms “proactively amplified and promoted content” on Facebook, which incited violent hatred against the Rohingya beginning as early as 2012.

Despite years of warnings, Amnesty found, the company not only failed to remove violent hate speech and disinformation against the Rohingya, it actively spread and amplified it until it culminated in the 2017 massacre. The timing coincided with the rising popularity of Facebook in Myanmar, where for many people it served as their only connection to the online world. That effectively made Facebook the internet for a vast number of Myanmar’s population.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled into neighboring Bangladesh that year. Myanmar security forces were accused of mass rapes, killings and torching thousands of homes owned by Rohingya.

“Meta — through its dangerous algorithms and its relentless pursuit of profit — substantially contributed to the serious human rights violations perpetrated against the Rohingya,” the report says.

A spokesperson for Meta declined to answer questions about the Amnesty report. In a statement, the company said it “stands in solidarity with the international community and supports efforts to hold the Tatmadaw accountable for its crimes against the Rohingya people.”

“Our safety and integrity work in Myanmar remains guided by feedback from local civil society organizations and international institutions, including the U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar; the Human Rights Impact Assessment we commissioned in 2018; as well as our ongoing human rights risk management,” Rafael Frankel, director of public policy for emerging markets, Meta Asia-Pacific, said in a statement.

Like Sawyeddollah, who is quoted in the Amnesty report and spoke with the AP on Tuesday, most of the people who fled Myanmar — about 80% of the Rohingya living in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine at the time — are still staying in refugee camps. And they are asking Meta to pay reparations for its role in the violent repression of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, which the U.S. declared a genocide earlier this year.

Amnesty’s report, out Wednesday, is based on interviews with Rohingya refugees, former Meta staff, academics, activists and others. It also relied on documents disclosed to Congress last year by whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist. It notes that digital rights activists say Meta has improved its civil society engagement and some aspects of its content moderation practices in Myanmar in recent years. In January 2021, after a violent coup overthrew the government, it banned the country’s military from its platform.

But critics, including some of Facebook’s own employees, have long maintained such an approach will never truly work. It means Meta is playing whack-a-mole trying to remove harmful material while its algorithms designed to push “engaging” content that’s more likely to get people riled up essentially work against it.

“These algorithms are really dangerous to our human rights. And what happened to the Rohingya and Facebook’s role in that specific conflict risks happening again, in many different contexts across the world,” said Pat de Brún, researcher and adviser on artificial intelligence and human rights at Amnesty.

“The company has shown itself completely unwilling or incapable of resolving the root causes of its human rights impact.”

After the U.N.’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar highlighted the “significant” role Facebook played in the atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingya, Meta admitted in 2018 that “we weren’t doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence.”

In the following years, the company “touted certain improvements in its community engagement and content moderation practices in Myanmar,” Amnesty said, adding that its report “finds that these measures have proven wholly inadequate.”

In 2020, for instance, three years after the violence in Myanmar killed thousands of Rohingya Muslims and displaced 700,000 more, Facebook investigated how a video by a leading anti-Rohingya hate figure, U Wirathu, was circulating on its site.

The probe revealed that over 70% of the video’s views came from “chaining” — that is, it was suggested to people who played a different video, showing what’s “up next.” Facebook users were not seeking out or searching for the video, but had it fed to them by the platform’s algorithms.

Wirathu had been banned from Facebook since 2018.

“Even a well-resourced approach to content moderation, in isolation, would likely not have sufficed to prevent and mitigate these algorithmic harms. This is because content moderation fails to address the root cause of Meta’s algorithmic amplification of harmful content,” Amnesty’s report says.

The Rohingya refugees are seeking unspecified reparations from the Menlo Park, California-based social media giant for its role in perpetuating genocide. Meta, which is the subject of twin lawsuits in the U.S. and the U.K. seeking $150 billion for Rohingya refugees, has so far refused.

“We believe that the genocide against Rohingya was possible only because of Facebook,” Sawyeddollah said. “They communicated with each other to spread hate, they organized campaigns through Facebook. But Facebook was silent.”

Oregon Town Hosts 1st Wind-Solar-Battery ‘Hybrid’ Plant

A renewable energy plant being commissioned in Oregon on Wednesday that combines solar power, wind power and massive batteries to store the energy generated there is the first utility-scale plant of its kind in North America.

The project, which will generate enough electricity to power a small city at maximum output, addresses a key challenge facing the utility industry as the U.S. transitions away from fossil fuels and increasingly turns to solar and wind farms for power. Wind and solar are clean sources of power, but utilities have been forced to fill in gaps when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining with fossil fuels like coal or natural gas.

At the Oregon plant, massive lithium batteries will store up to 120 megawatt-hours of power generated by the 300-megawatt wind farms and 50-megawatt solar farm so it can be released to the electric grid on demand. At maximum output, the facility will produce more than half of the power that was generated by Oregon’s last coal plant, which was demolished earlier this month.

On-site battery storage isn’t new, and interest in solar-plus-battery projects in particular has soared in the U.S. in recent years due to robust tax credits and incentives and the falling price of batteries. The Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility in Oregon, however, is the first in the U.S. to combine integrated wind, solar and battery storage at such a large scale in one location, giving it even more flexibility to generate continuous output without relying on fossil fuels to fill in the gaps.

The project is “getting closer and closer to having something with a very stable output profile that we traditionally think of being what’s capable with a fuel-based generation power plant,” said Jason Burwen, vice president of energy storage at the American Clean Power Association, an advocacy group for the clean power industry.

“If the solar is chugging along and cloud cover comes over, the battery can kick in and make sure that the output is uninterrupted. As the sun goes down and the wind comes online, the battery can make sure that that’s very smooth so that it doesn’t, to the grid operator, look like anything unusual.”

The plant located in a remote expanse three hours east of Portland is a partnership between NextEra Energy Resources and Portland General Electric, a public utility required to reduce carbon emissions by 100% by 2040 under an Oregon climate law passed last year, one of the most ambitious in the nation.

PGE’s customers are also demanding green power — nearly a quarter-million customers receive only renewable energy — and the Wheatridge project is “key to that decarbonization strategy,” said Kristen Sheeran, PGE’s director of sustainability strategy and resource planning.

Under the partnership, PGE owns one-third of the wind output and purchases all the facility’s power for its renewable energy portfolio. NextEra, which developed the site and operates it, owns two-thirds of the wind output and all of the solar output and storage.

“The mere fact that many other customers are looking at these types of facilities gives you a hint at what we think could be possible,” said David Lawlor, NextEra’s director of business development for the Pacific Northwest. “Definitely customers want firmer generation, starting with the battery storage in the back.”

Large-scale energy storage is critical as the U.S. shifts to more variable power sources like wind and solar, and Americans can expect to see similar projects across the country as that trend accelerates. National Renewable Energy Laboratory models show U.S. storage capacity may rise fivefold by 2050, yet experts say even this won’t be enough to prevent extremely disruptive climate change.

Batteries aren’t the only solution that the clean energy industry is trying out. Pumped storage generates power by sending huge volumes of water downhill through turbines and others are experimenting with forcing water underground and holding it there before releasing it to power turbines.

But interest in batteries for clean energy storage has grown dramatically in recent years at the same time that the cost of batteries is falling and the technology itself is improving, boosting interest in hybrid plants, experts say.

Generating capacity from hybrid plants increased 133% between 2020 and 2021 and by the end of last year, there were nearly 8,000 megawatts of wind or solar generation connected to storage, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which is managed by the University of California.

The vast majority of such projects are solar power with battery storage, largely because of tax credits, but projects in the pipeline include offshore wind-plus-battery, hydroelectric-plus-battery and at least nine facilities like the one in Oregon that will combine solar, wind and storage. Projects in the pipeline between 2023 and 2025 include ones in Washington, California, Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois and Oregon, according to Berkeley Lab.

Many researchers and pilots are working on alternatives to lithium ion batteries, however, largely because their intrinsic chemistry limits them to around four hours of storage and a longer duration would be more useful.

“There is no silver bullet. There’s no model or prototype that’s going to meet that entire need … but wind and solar will certainly be in the mix,” said PGE’s Sheeran.

“This model can become a tool for decarbonization across the West as the whole country is driving toward very ambitious climate reduction goals.”

Counter-drone Technology Stopping Malicious Drones from Doing Harm

As military and civilian drones become increasingly popular, there are growing concerns about the threats some of them may pose over places like airports, prisons, and electrical grids. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports on a company that has developed counter-drone technology that can identify and mitigate threats from malicious drones.
VIdeographer: Adam Greenbaum Produced by: Julie Taboh, Adam Greenbaum

Meta Disables Russian Propaganda Network Targeting Europe

A sprawling disinformation network originating in Russia sought to use hundreds of fake social media accounts and dozens of sham news websites to spread Kremlin talking points about the invasion of Ukraine, Meta revealed Tuesday.

The company, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said it identified and disabled the operation before it was able to gain a large audience. Nonetheless, Facebook said it was the largest and most complex Russian propaganda effort that it has found since the invasion began.

The operation involved more than 60 websites created to mimic legitimate news sites including The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom and Germany’s Der Spiegel. Instead of the actual news reported by those outlets, however, the fake sites contained links to Russian propaganda and disinformation about Ukraine. More than 1,600 fake Facebook accounts were used to spread the propaganda to audiences in Germany, Italy, France, the U.K. and Ukraine.

The findings highlighted both the promise of social media companies to police their sites and the peril that disinformation continues to pose.

“Video: False Staging in Bucha Revealed!” claimed one of the fake news stories, which blamed Ukraine for the slaughter of hundreds of Ukrainians in a town occupied by the Russians.

The fake social media accounts were then used to spread links to the fake news stories and other pro-Russian posts and videos on Facebook and Instagram, as well as platforms including Telegram and Twitter. The network was active throughout the summer.

“On a few occasions, the operation’s content was amplified by the official Facebook pages of Russian embassies in Europe and Asia,” said David Agranovich, Meta’s director of threat disruption. “I think this is probably the largest and most complex Russian-origin operation that we’ve disrupted since the beginning of the war in Ukraine earlier this year.”

The network’s activities were first noticed by investigative reporters in Germany. When Meta began its investigation it found that many of the fake accounts had already been removed by Facebook’s automated systems. Thousands of people were following the network’s Facebook pages when they were deactivated earlier this year.

Researchers said they couldn’t directly attribute the network to the Russian government. But Agranovich noted the role played by Russian diplomats and said the operation relied on some sophisticated tactics, including the use of multiple languages and carefully constructed imposter websites.

Since the war began in February, the Kremlin has used online disinformation and conspiracy theories in an effort to weaken international support for Ukraine. Groups linked to the Russian government have accused Ukraine of staging attacks, blamed the war on baseless allegations of U.S. bioweapon development and portrayed Ukrainian refugees as criminals and rapists.

Social media platforms and European governments have tried to stifle the Kremlin’s propaganda and disinformation, only to see Russia shift tactics.

A message sent to the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., asking for a response to Meta’s recent actions was not immediately returned.

Researchers at Meta Platforms Inc., which is based in Menlo Park, California, also exposed a much smaller network that originated in China and attempted to spread divisive political content in the U.S.

The operation reached only a tiny U.S. audience, with some posts receiving just a single engagement. The posts also made some amateurish moves that showed they weren’t American, including some clumsy English language mistakes and a habit of posting during Chinese working hours.

Despite its ineffectiveness, the network is notable because it’s the first identified by Meta that targeted Americans with political messages ahead of this year’s midterm elections. The Chinese posts didn’t support one party or the other but seemed intent on stirring up polarization.

“While it failed, it’s important because it’s a new direction” for Chinese disinformation operations, said Ben Nimmo, who directs global threat intelligence for Meta.

Musk Faces Deposition With Twitter Ahead of October Trial

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is scheduled to spend the next few days with lawyers for Twitter, answering questions ahead of an October trial that will determine whether he must carry through with his $44 billion agreement to acquire the social platform after attempting to back out of the deal.

The deposition, planned for Monday, Tuesday and a possible extension on Wednesday, will not be public. As of Sunday evening, it was not clear whether Musk will appear in person or by video. The trial is set to begin October 17 in Delaware Chancery Court, where it’s scheduled to last just five days.

Musk, the world’s richest man, agreed in April to buy Twitter and take it private, offering $54.20 a share and vowing to loosen the company’s policing of content and to root out fake accounts. Twitter shares closed Friday at $41.58.

Musk indicated in July that he wanted to back away from the deal, prompting Twitter to file a lawsuit to force him to carry through with the acquisition.