30th August, 2023
Facebook parent company Meta said in a report released Tuesday that it took down a Chinese covert digital influence operation that sought to discredit U.S. institutions and the West while promoting its own agenda on more than 50 social media platforms.
Meta said on Facebook alone, cloaked users with ties to Chinese law enforcement gained more than 550,000 followers with unfounded claims about the U.S. government’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic along with attacking the White House’s support for Taiwan.
The report also noted that Chinese-linked users on Reddit pushed the conspiracy that former British Prime Minister Liz Truss was involved in the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Users on numerous other platforms — from Medium to YouTube, X and Quora — specifically targeted Chinese dissidents with criticism.
“This campaign was run by geographically dispersed operators across China who appeared to be centrally provisioned with Internet access and content,” Meta said in its report. “It included positive commentary about China and its province Xinjiang and criticisms of the United States, Western foreign policies, and critics of the Chinese government including journalists and researchers.
“Our investigation found links to individuals associated with Chinese law enforcement. We were also able to link this network to the so-called ‘Spamouflage’ operation and its many separate clusters of spammy activity that Meta and our peers have been taking down since 2019.”
Meta’s global lead for threat intelligence Ben Nimmo told CNBC the company started its investigation by looking at possible China links on its own pages and quickly found how that connected to numerous other social media sites.
“These operations are big, but they’re clumsy and what we’re not seeing is any real sign that they’re building authentic audiences on our platform or elsewhere on the Internet,” Nimmo said. “Taken together, we assess Spamouflage to be the largest known cross-platform covert influence operation to date.
“Although the people behind this activity tried to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to individuals associated with Chinese law enforcement.”
Meta’s cybersecurity team said in its report that the findings were a primer for the 2024 election and how it plans to root out similar widespread spam campaigns.