Meta Rejects Chinese Efforts to Influence the U.S. Elections

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By georgeskef

Meta, parent company of Instagram and Facebook, announced Tuesday that it had taken down what it called the first targeted Chinese campaign to interfere with U.S. politics in advance of the November midterm elections.

Contrary to Russian efforts during the previous two presidential elections however, the Chinese campaign seemed limited in scope and clumsy at points.

According to the report, fake posts started appearing on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in November using profile photos of men dressed in formal wear but the names of the women.

Later, the users posed as conservative Americans and argued for gun rights. They also criticized President Biden. They posed mostly as liberals from Florida and Texas, promoting abortion rights and opposing guns by April. They misunderstood the English language, and they failed to attract many people.

Two Meta officials stated that they couldn’t definitively attribute the campaign or any individuals to it. The tactics were a reflection of China’s increasing use of international social media for its political and diplomatic agenda.

The unusual aspect of this effort was the apparent focus on domestic divisions before the midterms.

China’s propaganda apparatus focused on criticism of American foreign policy in previous influence campaigns. However, it promoted China’s view on issues such as Hong Kong’s crackdown on political rights and mass repression at Xinjiang (a predominantly Muslim region) where hundreds of thousands were forced to re-education camps or prisons.

Ben Nimmo was Meta’s global threat intelligence lead. He said that the operation represented “a new direction in Chinese influence operations.”

He said, “It’s talking to Americans, pretending that they are Americans instead of talking about America to other people.” “So, the operation is not large in itself but it is a step towards change.”

It appeared that the operation was not urgent and had no scope. This raised questions about its ambitions and goals. The operation involved only 81 Facebook accounts and eight Facebook pages, as well as one group. The operation had abruptly shifted its focus away from the United States to politics in the Czech Republic by July.

These posts were posted during work hours in China, when most Americans are asleep. They stopped appearing after what appeared to have been a significant lunch break.

One user posted, “I can’t live on regression in America.”

Even though the campaign did not go viral, Mr. Nimmo stated that the disclosure by the company was meant to raise awareness about the possibility of Chinese interference in the domestic affairs of its competitors.

Meta also announced it had taken down an even larger Russian influence operation, which began in May. It was primarily focused on Britain, France, Italy, and Germany.

According to the company, it was “the largest complex and largest” operation that it had seen from Russia since February’s war with Ukraine.

The campaign was centered around 60 websites that impersonated news agencies in Europe like Bild, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, and ANSA, an Italian news agency.

These sites then published original articles critiquing Ukraine and warning about the plight of Ukrainian refugees. These articles were promoted on the internet via Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram. Telegram is a messaging app that is popular in Russia.

According to the report, Russians had 1,633 Facebook accounts, 703 pages, one group and 29 Instagram accounts. Around 4,000 accounts were following one or more Facebook pages. Meta attempted to block the domains but new websites emerged, “indicating persistence and continued investment in this activity.”

Meta started its investigation in August after disclosures were made by ZDF, one of Germany’s television channels. It did not accuse Vladimir V. Putin’s government, as it did in the Chinese case, but the activity is clearly similar to the extensive information warfare that surrounded its invasion.

Meta’s threat disruption director David Agranovich said that they were throwing everything at the wall and not much of it was sticking. “It doesn’t mean we can say mission accomplished right now.”

Twitter stated that it had been looking into the accounts identified as Meta “for some while” and had taken appropriate action against accounts violating the company’s rules. However, it didn’t elaborate.

Meta’s report found overlap between Chinese and Russian campaigns “on a number of occasions”, although the company claimed they were not connected. The overlap is a result of the increasing cross-fertilization between official statements and state media reports, particularly in relation to the United States.

Accounts associated with the Chinese campaign published material from Russia’s state media including those that raised unfounded allegations the United States had secretly created biological weapons in Ukraine.

An account in French linked to the operation posted a French version of the allegation on April 10, 10 days after Russia’s Ministry of Defense posted it on Telegram. According to Meta, that one received only one reply in French from an authentic user.

The user wrote “Fake.” “Fake. Fake as always

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