There were hundreds, tens of thousands of engagements and hundreds of thousands of views. In early November, the MIT Technology Review still found dozens of fake live videos from this time period. A dubbed couple, with more than 200,000 and 160,000 views, respectively, claimed in Burmese: “I’m the only one who broadcasts live in real time from all over the country.” We removed several of them from Facebook after we paid attention to them, but dozens more, as well as the pages they posted, still remain. Osborne said the company is aware of the problem and has significantly reduced these Fake Lives and their distribution over the past year.
Ironically, Rio believes the video is likely to be taken from images of the crisis uploaded to YouTube as evidence of human rights. The scenes, in other words, are from Myanmar, but all were published from Vietnam and Cambodia.
Over the past half year, Rio has tracked and identified several sets of pages sold out of Vietnam and Cambodia. Many used fake live videos to quickly build up the number of followers and encourage viewers to join Facebook groups disguised as pro-democracy communities. Rio is now worried that the recent appearance of Facebook ads in live video streams will encourage clickbait actors to fake it. An 18-page Cambodian cluster began publishing highly damaging political misinformation, reaching a total of 16 million commitments and an audience of 1.6 million in four months. Facebook removed 18 pages in March, but new clusters continue to grow while others remain.
Rio knows that these Vietnamese and Cambodian actors do not speak Burmese. They probably don’t understand Burmese culture or country politics. The bottom line is that they don’t need it. Not when they are stealing their content.
Since then, Rio has found a number of private Cambodian Facebook and Telegram groups (one with more than 3,000 people) where they exchange tools and tips on the best strategies for making money. The MIT Technology Review reviewed the documents, images, and videos it collected, and hired a Khmer translator to interpret a video tutorial that guides viewers through a step-by-step clickbait workflow.
The materials show how Cambodian operators collect research on the best-performing content in each country and plagiarize it for their clickbait websites. A community-driven Google Drive folder contains two spreadsheets that include 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 YouTube videos in different languages and each one that uses an automated tool to turn articles into their own site. We found 29 YouTube channels that spread misinformation about the current political situation in Myanmar, such as those that were becoming clickbait articles and redistributing them to new Facebook audiences.
When we reported the channel to him, YouTube terminated all of them for violating community guidelines, including the fact that 7 of them were part of coordinated impact operations related to Myanmar. Choi noted that YouTube stopped broadcasting ads on nearly 2,000 videos on these channels. “We continue to actively monitor our platforms to prevent bad actors who want to take advantage of our network,” he said.
Then there are other tools, such as allowing pre-recorded videos to appear as fake Facebook Live videos. Another creates randomly US male profile details, including image, name, birthday, Social Security number, phone number and address, so another tool can massively create fake Facebook accounts using some of this information.
Now it’s very easy to do that many Cambodian actors are acting solo. Rio calls them micro-entrepreneurs. In the most extreme scenario, individuals have been seen managing 11,000 Facebook accounts on their own.
Successful micro-entrepreneurs are also preparing others to do this work in their community. “It’s going to get worse,” he says. “Any Joe in the world could affect your information environment without realizing it.”