The FBI pressured social media companies to crack down on the spread of so-called “Russian disinformation” on behalf of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), according to a report from the House weaponization panel, but evidence suggests that the Russians had infiltrated the group and used the censorship pipeline to suppress anti-Putin and pro-Ukrainian materials.
“Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) sought to identify and impair suspected Russian influence operations on social media,” reads the report. “The SBU enlisted the FBI in support of this effort, transmitting to the FBI lists of social media accounts that allegedly ‘spread Russian disinformation.’ The FBI, in turn, routinely relayed these lists to the relevant social media platforms, which distributed the information internally to their employees in charge of content moderation and enforcement.”
Such an operation, the committee found, appeared to result in the targeting of a curious selection of content, much of which seemed unlike what one would presume to constitute “Russian disinformation.”
“The Committee’s analysis of these ‘disinformation’ registries revealed that the FBI, at the request of the SBU, flagged for social media companies the authentic accounts of Americans, including a verified U.S. State Department account and those belonging to American journalists,” it reads. “The FBI and SBU repeatedly requested the removal or suspension of authentic accounts expressing unambiguously pro-Ukrainian views, as well as those voicing opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
The panel then pointed to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s firing the head of the SBU in July of 2022 over Russian infiltration of the organization. It further excoriated the bureau for uncritically working with the SBU, which was compromised by Moscow.
“Given that the SBU was compromised by a network of Russian collaborators, sympathizers, and double agents at the time of its interactions with the FBI, the FBI’s uncritical cooperation with the SBU’s requests is deeply concerning,” the lawmakers on the panel fumed. “The inclusion of American accounts on the SBU’s lists indicates that the FBI either did not properly vet the SBU’s requests or was aware of their domestic nature, and nonetheless carried them out. These findings highlight the need for additional oversight and legislative reform to protect Americans’ free speech rights.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, 2022, and continues to the present. As of press time, Russian forces control a large swathe of the Ukrainian South, including Crimea and a strip of land connecting the region to Russia proper. The much-hyped Ukrainian counteroffensive has thus far failed to make significant progress.