Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, recently disclosed the removal of a substantial network of fake accounts originating from China.
This network, comprising over 4,700 accounts, was engaged in disseminating misleading information while posing as Americans.
The deceptive content covered a range of topics, including US politics, US-China relations, abortion, cultural issues, and aid to Ukraine.
While Meta did not explicitly tie the fake accounts to Beijing officials, it highlighted a growing trend of similar networks emanating from China, particularly in anticipation of the 2024 US elections.
According to Meta’s quarterly threat report, China has become the third-largest geographical source of such deceptive networks, trailing behind Russia and Iran.
The modus operandi of the China-based network involved using profile pictures and names copied from legitimate users worldwide.
These accounts exhibited coordinated behavior by sharing and liking each other’s posts. Some content appeared to be directly sourced from X, formerly known as Twitter.
The deceptive accounts demonstrated a lack of ideological consistency, replicating posts from politicians across the political spectrum, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and Representatives Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan.
Content was copied verbatim, encompassing discussions on abortion laws and other contentious issues.
Meta’s report acknowledged the unclear motives behind this deceptive strategy—whether to intensify partisan tensions, cultivate audiences among supporters of specific politicians, or enhance the credibility of fake accounts sharing authentic content.
The company’s moderation rules categorically prohibit what it terms “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” referring to posts by groups of accounts that collaborate using false identities to mislead users.
While the content shared by such networks may not always be false and could reference accurate news stories, the primary objective is to manipulate public opinion, sow division, and artificially amplify certain viewpoints.
Meta asserted that the extensive Chinese network was thwarted before gaining traction among real users.
Ben Nimmo, leading investigations into inauthentic behavior on Meta’s platforms, underscored the ongoing challenges these networks face in building substantial audiences but emphasized their significance as a warning.
Foreign threat actors are actively seeking to engage with people online in the lead-up to upcoming elections, necessitating sustained vigilance.
In addition to the large Chinese network, Meta identified two smaller networks—one based in China focusing on India and Tibet, and another based in Russia primarily posting in English about the invasion of Ukraine and promoting Telegram channels.
Russian networks, which prompted Meta’s increased focus on inauthentic campaigns after the 2016 election, have shifted their attention to the Ukraine conflict, attempting to undermine international support for Kyiv.
Meta also highlighted a noteworthy development regarding information-sharing between the US government and the company.
In July, the US government ceased sharing information about foreign influence networks with Meta due to a federal ruling, part of a legal case related to the First Amendment currently under consideration by the Supreme Court.
This case is emblematic of the broader debate about the extent to which the US government collaborates with tech companies and whether such collaboration unduly restricts the free speech of social media users.
Last Updated: 01 December 2023