'Think about that… twice': Tracking Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour on Lithuanian social media

In view of the increasingly discussed problem of Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour (CIB) and the widespread activity of bots on social media, artificial influence of the popularity of disinformation content and consequently harming public opinion, DebunkEU.org analysed a selection of suspicious posts on Facebook. This report is dedicated to one of them.


 

Summary


  • A case of coordinated Inauthentic behaviour (CIB) was spotted in early April on the Facebook page of Minfo.lt, a site known for spreading conspiracies and disinformation. The attack occurred a couple of days after the Bucha massacre and can be seen as an attempt to divert attention from the crimes committed by the Russian army In Ukraine.

  • A repost with a video from a Russian wellness guru gained 121 thousand interactions in total and was 444.4 times more popular than any other post on Minfo.

  • 1622 comments (about 1/3) were written by 484 users and used a couple of the same Images or GIFs. Many were written by the same user in a short period of time.

  • Even though Minfo is dedicated to a Lithuanian audience, the majority of the comments under this post were in other languages.

  • The comments under the video in question spread one of the main Kremlin narratives: ‘Russia should not be blamed for this’, which is in line with the justification for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

  • In total the post was shared on public groups 145 times (sometimes it was shared more than once on the same group). Many groups originated from other countries than Lithuania, such as Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, etc.


 

Minfo Facebook page


The video we suspect to be a part of an influence operation appeared on the known for spreading disinformation Facebook page Minfo, created to “fight censorship” on social media. It is social channel of Lithuanian ‘positive news’ website minfo.lt, run by “Fellowship of Maximalist Psychotherapy” (“Maksimalistinės psichoterapijos draugija, VšĮ”) headed by Marius Gabrilavičius (aka “Maksimalietis”) - a self-proclaimed psychotherapist, known for organising anti-vaccine protests in Lithuania and supporting QAnon conspiracy theory, according to fact-checkers of “ReBaltica”. As a journalist of fact-checking portal 15min.lt writes, in 2020 Mr. Gabrilavičius spent more money on ads promoting his posts than the largest media group in Lithuania (LRT), the European Parliament, the European Commission, Lithuanian political parties or commercial media.


It is worth mentioning that when a person, who does not exhibit any signs of considerable wealth, leads a website that employs more than 10 authors, and bought more on Facebook ads than the most spendy political party during the Lithuanian election campaign, it is at least strange. And considering that the content of Minfo.lt is openly pro-Russian, it raises reasonable doubts about the origin and purpose of these funds. Moreover, a few years ago, Mr. Gabrilavičius was interviewed by Lithuanian fact-checkers from online television channel Laisvės TV, where he said that he also receives income in foreign countries. At that time, journalists were suspicious about the exclusive favouritism of the authors of Minfo (self-proclaimed “positive news website”) towards the Lithuanian Peasants' and Greens' Union, which was leading the ruling coalition back then. Lithuanian argo-oligarch Ramūnas Karbauskis is the leader of that party and is well-known for his close business relations with Russian state and business figures. He is also known as one of the initiators to organise a popular referendum against Lithuania's accession to NATO back in 2002. Karbauskis is also linked to possibly financing a disinformation campaign in 2013-2014 against the investment of the American energy company Chevron in the exploration and exploitation of shale gas fields in Lithuania, thus preventing Lithuania from securing energy independence from Russia.


On 5th of April Minfo Facebook page posted a video of Artur Sita, a wide-known Russian influencer, well-being and mindfulness guru, who resides in Thailand and he gives lectures on self-fulfillment.


In the 3-minute-long excerpt from one of his lectures, Mr. Sita says: “If the people who are waging war now knew what they were doing it for, they would lay down their arms”. Later in the video, he rhetorically asks why peace talks are taking place behind closed doors and answers that it is not about peace at all, but about economics. He states that those who are fighting and killing each other do so because they do not know the truth, that the war is about money and not about ideas.


Original post from Minfo page on Facebook

As mentioned, the video was published on the Minfo Facebook page on 5th of April, a few days after the world saw the visual evidence of Bucha massacre. The post gained 1.52 million views (3.11 million views, including views from shares), which is a very high engagement rate. What is more, the video triggered 57K likes, more than 59K shares and 4.5K comments (in total 121 thousand interactions). According to CrowdTangle data, the Minfo post has a third place in terms of most shares of all Lithuanian pages for the period 20.05.2021-20.05.2022. What is more, it was the only case of such a rapid increase in content published on Minfo and others monitored by DebunkEU.org Facebook pages over a period of 16 months. According to CrowdTangle data, this post was 444.4 times more popular than any other post on Minfo.



The disproportionate number of responses to a post is noticeable even better when compared to the number of shares from other Minfo posts, as shown on the graph below:


It is evident that the video triggered a massive number of reactions, even exceeding the number of shares of posts from other Facebook pages monitored by DebunkEU.org during the first days of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It should be noted that since December 2020, Minfo has not purchased any Facebook Ads, which could potentially explain the rise of interactions.


Using data from CrowdTangle, we could analyse the history of the interactions with the post. Although in the first days after publishing the material gained limited attention, the situation changed rapidly on April 8, when the numbers of likes, shares, and comments skyrocketed. The surge in interactions continued until April 13, after which the curve began to flatten out.


Dynamics of likes, shares, and comments


It should be noted that the video is in Russian, and the post itself has only one word in Lithuanian “to think about” (“susimastymui”). As the vast majority of other posts and users’ comments