Meta announced Thursday that it had removed thousands of China-based Facebook accounts posing as Americans debating political issues in the United States. The company warned that the campaign foreshadowed coordinated international efforts to influence the 2024 presidential election.
The network of fake accounts (4,789 in total) used names and photos taken from elsewhere on the Internet and copied partisan political content from X, formerly known as Twitter, Meta said in its latest quarterly report. adversarial threat analysis. The copied material included posts from prominent Republican and Democratic politicians, according to the report.
The campaign seemed intended not to favor one side or the other but to highlight the deep divisions in American politics, a tactic that Russia’s influence campaigns have used for years in the United States and elsewhere.
Meta warned that the campaign underscored the threat facing a confluence of elections around the world in 2024, from India in April to the United States in November.
“Foreign threat actors are attempting to reach audiences ahead of various elections next year, including in the US and Europe,” the company’s report says, “and we must remain alert to evolving tactics and objectives on the Internet”.
Although Meta did not attribute the latest campaign to China’s communist government, it noted that the country had become the third most common geographic source of coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and other social media platforms, after Russia and Iran.
The Chinese network was the fifth that Meta detected and dismantled this year, more than any other nation, suggesting China is stepping up its covert influence efforts. While previous campaigns focused on Chinese issues, recent ones have more directly impacted US domestic politics.
“This represents the most notable change in the threat landscape, compared to the 2020 election cycle,” the company said in the threat report.
The Meta report followed a series of revelations about China’s global information operations, including a recent State Department report that accused China of spending billions on “deceptive and coercive methods” to shape the information environment. global.
Microsoft and other researchers have also linked China to the spread of conspiracy theories that claim the US government deliberately set the deadly wildfires in Hawaii this year.
The latest inauthentic accounts removed by Meta sought to “hijack authentic partisan narratives,” according to the report. She details several examples where accounts copied and pasted, under their own names, partisan posts from politicians, often using language and symbols that indicated the posts were originally on X.
Two Facebook posts a month apart in August and September, for example, copied opposing statements on abortion from two members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas: Sylvia R. Garcia, a Democrat, and Ronny Jackson, a republican.
The accounts were also linked to mainstream media outlets and shared posts from X owner Elon Musk. They liked and reposted content from real Facebook users on other topics as well, such as games, models, and pets. The activity suggested that the accounts were intended to build a network of seemingly authentic accounts to drive a coordinated message in the future.
Meta also took down a similar, smaller network from China that primarily targeted India and Tibet, but also the United States. In the case of Tibet, users posed as independence activists who accused the Dalai Lama of corruption and pedophilia.
Meta warned that while it had removed the accounts, the same networks were still using accounts on other platforms, including X, YouTube, Gettr, Telegram and Truth Social, warning that foreign adversaries were diversifying the sources of their operations.
In his report, Meta also weighed in on Republican attacks on the U.S. government’s role in tracking online disinformation, a political and legal fight that reached the Supreme Court in a challenge brought by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana.
While Republicans accused officials of coercing social media platforms to censor content, including in a House hearing on Thursday, Meta said coordination between tech companies, the government and law enforcement had foreign threats interrupted.
“This type of information sharing may be particularly critical for disrupting malicious foreign campaigns by sophisticated threat actors that coordinate their operations outside of our platforms,” the report says.