There were hundreds of them, thousands of engagements and millions of views. In early November, MIT Technology Review found dozens of duplicate duplicate live videos from this time frame. A duplicate pair with 200,000 and 160,000 views, respectively, declared in Burmese, “I am the only one who broadcasts live from across the country in real time.” Facebook dropped many of them after we noticed them, but dozens more, as well as the pages they posted, still remain. Osborne said the company was aware of the problem and had significantly reduced the number of fake live and their distribution over the past year.
Ironically, Rio believes the videos were probably torn from footage of the crisis uploaded to YouTube as human rights evidence. The scenes, in other words, are actually from Myanmar — but they were all posted from Vietnam and Cambodia.
Over the past half year, Rio has tracked and identified several page clusters coming out of Vietnam and Cambodia. Many use fake live video to quickly build up their followers and entice viewers to join Facebook groups in the guise of a pro-democracy community. Rio now worries that the latest rollout of in-stream ads on Facebook’s live videos will further encourage ClickBet actors to imitate. An 18-page Cambodian cluster has begun posting highly harmful political misinformation, reaching a total of 16 million engagements and 1.6 million listeners in four months. Facebook dropped to 18 pages in March but new clusters continue to circulate while others remain.
As everyone in Rio knows, these Vietnamese and Cambodian actors do not speak Burmese. They probably do not understand Burmese culture or the politics of the country. The bottom line is they don’t need to. Not when they’re stealing their content.
Rio has since found several private Cambodian Facebook and Telegram groups (including a 3,000-strong group of individuals), where they trade tools and tips on how to make the best money. MIT Technology Review has reviewed its collected documents, photos and videos, and hired a Khmer translator to explain a tutorial video that takes viewers through a step-by-step clickbate workflow.
Content shows how Cambodian operators collect research on the best-performing content in each country and steal it for their ClickBet websites. A Google Drive folder shared with the community contains two dozen spreadsheets of links to the most popular Facebook groups in 20 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, India, France, Germany, Mexico, and Brazil.
The tutorial video also shows how they can find the most viral YouTube videos in different languages and use an automated tool to convert each one into an article for their site. We’ve found 29 YouTube channels spreading political misinformation about the current political situation in Myanmar, for example, which are being converted into Clickbet articles and redistributed to new viewers on Facebook.
After we brought the channels to our attention, YouTube closed them all for violating their community guidelines, including 7 part of the Myanmar-linked integrated action activity. Choi noted that YouTube had previously stopped advertising about 2,000 videos across these channels. “We continue to actively monitor our platforms to prevent bad actors from exploiting our network for profit.”
Then there are other tools, including one that allows previously recorded videos to appear as fake Facebook live videos. Another randomly generates profile details for US men, including photos, names, birthdays, Social Security numbers, phone numbers and addresses, so another tool can create fake Facebook accounts using some of that information.
It is now so easy to do that many Cambodian actors work alone. Rio calls them micro-entrepreneurs. In the worst case scenario, he found that individuals were managing 11,000 Facebook accounts themselves
Successful small entrepreneurs are also training others to do the same in their community. “It’s going to get worse,” he says. “Any Joe in the world you don’t understand can affect your information environment.”