Facebook said Wednesday it would reduce the spread of a New York Post story of making unconfirmed claims about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter pending a fact-checking review by the site’s partners.
But for more than a year now, the social network has provided a seedy group of Ukrainian activists – including one who has been classified by the US Treasury as an “active Russian agent” and is trying to interfere in the 2020 election – a platform to launch unfounded or exposed conspiracies to spread theories about the Biden family.
These Ukrainians were key in helping Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani in his efforts to smear the Bidens and help President Donald Trump get re-elected. Along the way, they have gained more than 200,000 followers and friends on Facebook, partly because of their popularity with supporters of the US President, who see them as sources of allegations related to Biden.
And when the story of the New York Post was published, the group celebrated on Facebook by once again spreading unconfirmed information about the Bidens.
Facebook did not immediately respond to questions about Ukrainians’ contributions.
The focus of the personal Facebook pages of three men – Andriy Telizhenko, Oleksandr Onyshchenko, and Andriy Derkach – were contributions to the history of the New York Post. While they didn’t directly share the link on the story, they did share links to reviews or pictures of it.
Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat and longtime associate of Giuliani who was a major source of alleged dirt on the Bidens, posted a seemingly photoshopped picture of Trump that was a copy of Wednesday’s New York Post titled “Bid Secret E- Mails. “
Two hours later, Telizhenko posted a link to an article on a pro-Trump blog about another story in the New York Post. He wrote in English, “Senate Committee to Investigate Newly Found E-Mail from Hunter Biden.” And overnight he published a third post with another link to an article relating to the Post’s report.
Posts were shared 5, 14 and 2 times with 36, 13 and 7 likes at the time of publication. This is in line with commitment, which is consistent with previous contributions from Telizhenko.
Onyshchenko, another Giuliani employee and former Ukrainian lawmaker in the now-defunct pro-Russian Party of Regions, who is now a refugee for allegedly embezzling more than $ 120 million from a Ukrainian gas company, also shared the story .
In summary, Onyshchenko’s post was shared 22 times and received more than 145 likes, an engagement that is in line with his usual posts – if not slightly higher.
Derkach, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, which the US Treasury Department sanctioned last month and who described it as “an active Russian agent for over a decade with close ties to Russian intelligence,” wrote in Russian about unconfirmed allegations he had previously countered the Bidens raised after the New York Post story was published.
He told BuzzFeed News from Kiev on Wednesday that he had nothing to do with the story of the New York Post, but that he enjoyed reading it. He said he believed the report supported his own unsubstantiated allegations against the Bidens. He also referred BuzzFeed News to a recent video he shared on his social media platforms, including Facebook.
Derkach met Giuliani at least three times, including last December in Kiev, when he was passing documents from the former New York mayor that the two men claimed to show corruption on the part of the Biden. A Facebook post from that meeting, which contained three photos of the two men together in a hotel in Kiev, was shared 118 times, commented 38 times and liked 550 times.
Facebook was Derkach’s main platform for sharing content via leaked and edited audio recordings, allegedly from conversations Biden had as Vice President with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. US officials have flagged the disinformation on the records and the Biden campaign has stated that they are part of a Russian campaign to meddle in the elections and help Trump.
The footage, which has never been authenticated, provides no evidence to support allegations that Biden misused his power to aid his son’s business interests in Ukraine.
Seven of the last nine videos Derkach posted on his Facebook page over the past five weeks dealt with the footage of Biden-Poroshenko and related documents. Together they have been viewed more than 83,000 times. Four of them show his appearances on pro-Russian Ukrainian television channels associated with Viktor Medvedchuk, a fellow Ukrainian lawmaker who is close friends with President Vladimir Putin.
Nina Jankowicz, a Disinformation Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, told BuzzFeed News that Facebook may have tried to limit the spread of the New York Post story out of concerns that the information it contained was obtained illegally.
“It would be more difficult for them to take similar action with some of the other narratives filmed as part of the Biden-Ukraine conspiracy as they do not deal directly with illegal material or other direct violations of the Terms of Service.” She said.
But the Derkach recordings could. A Ukrainian investigation into her origin was launched earlier this year. Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said in September that her office is also checking to see if they have been processed, Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported.