The video of the two men wrestling has been shared 41,000 times on Facebook, although the post was taken down on April 7, after WIRED brought it to the platform’s attention. The TikTok account that originally posted it was taken down overnight on April 6. Posts that are shared more than 10,000 times are very unusual for Moldova, a country of just 2.6 million people, says Pașa. Watchdog.MD estimates that of the 2.1 million adults living in Moldova’s government-controlled territory, just 1.4 million use Facebook regularly, and 315,000 use TikTok.
“I would define Moldova as being in the midst of an information war,” says Vadim Pistrinciuc, executive director at Chișinău-based think tank the Institute for Strategic Initiatives.
What the people behind this campaign do most is search for authentic content, which feeds their needs, says Pașa. Once that content has been identified, usually on TikTok, it is uploaded to Facebook where fake profiles spread the video across the platform, he adds.
“They [use] tens of thousands of fake profiles and are sharing this content to different groups or simply on the timelines of these fake accounts,” Pașa says. Not only does this make a video more prominent on Facebook but it also tricks TikTok’s algorithm into showing it more on that platform. “In this way, they artificially make this content, which is usually a video, go viral.”
Meta declined to provide a statement attributable to a named spokesperson in time for publication.
“We are currently assessing the situation for potential violations of our community guidelines, which prohibit inauthentic behavior,” says TikTok spokesperson Sara Mosavi.
On March 4, the TikTok user @hozyayka1997, a young woman who appears to be a Ukrainian refugee, filmed a new video. Looking straight into the camera, she launches into a stream of complaints about how Ukrainians refugees are treated in Germany. She talks in Russian, and her face is framed with a black fur hood. At one point in the one-minute video, she turns the camera to show where she is sitting—in a dirty-white tent, filled with long benches. She talks about how the German authorities made Ukrainians wait for hours in the cold, without food or water. “Are we people or cattle?” she asks.
The video, which has been watched 650,000 times on TikTok, was reposted on Facebook by an account that posts a huge amount of pro-Russia content and has 3,700 connections. Between the video’s Facebook comments criticizing the woman for wearing makeup and fur, one user says: “Look at the profile of the person who posted the video, it’s a provocation.”
In another TikTok video, a woman who claims to be from south Moldova says refugees are demanding “luxury”–they don’t like their accommodation or their food, which they “throw on the floor.” She tells them to go back to their country if they don’t like Moldova.
When the video was reposted onto Facebook on March 10, a Moldovan flag was positioned to conceal the TikTok username of the person who originally posted it. Before it was taken down by Facebook on April 7, it was shared 15,000 times.