Facebook and Instagram parent Meta Platforms on Tuesday said it uncovered a misinformation campaign operated by people linked to Chinese law enforcement operating across nearly every social media platform.
The company said it took down more than 7,700 Facebook accounts, over 950 Facebook pages, 15 groups and 15 Instagram accounts that were part of “what appears to be the largest known cross-platform covert influence operation in the world,” mainly aiming to put a positive spin on China’s human rights record.
In addition to Facebook and Instagram, Meta said that the operation also reached more than 50 other platforms and forums, including X, YouTube, TikTok, Reddit, Pinterest, Medium, Blogspot, LiveJournal, Vimeo, and “dozens of smaller platforms and forums.”
The report identified dozens of accounts on the rival platforms that appeared to be part of the pro-China network.
“This network originated in China and targeted many regions around the world, including Taiwan, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, and global Chinese-speaking audiences,” Meta said in its “Adversarial Threat Report,” a look prepared every three months at the bad actors and risks that the social media networks face.
Many of the removed accounts and Pages had previously been used to post about clothing, accessories and lingerie before they began posting about world politics, Meta said.
They often used profile photos copied from other sources or generated by artificial intelligence, and frequently continued to post “spammy photos or videos” of scenery, food or fashion in between their political posts, “likely to camouflage their strategic goal,” Meta said.
The report said the political content in question included “positive commentary” about China and in particular the Xinjiang province, where unknown thousands of ethnic Uyghurs, a Muslim minority, are held in detention camps.
The pro-China posts also included criticism of the United States and other Western governments’ foreign policies and put downs for critics of the Chinese government, including journalists and researchers, Meta said.
The campaign was run by a group that was spread across China but appeared to have internet access and content provided by the same source, the report said.
“Our investigation found links to individuals associated with Chinese law enforcement,” the report revealed. “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 said that its automated systems detected and disabled many of the accounts, but its actions likely led the people behind it to shift their posts to smaller platforms, then try to use the larger services to amplify the messages.
“We have not found evidence of this network getting any substantial engagement among authentic communities on our services,” the report said.
The report also included updates on problematic social media activity from actors in Turkey and Iran and a Russian campaign that spoofed major mainstream media outlets in Europe to post fake articles about the war in Ukraine.
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