Nearly 9,000 Facebook and Instagram accounts associated with Chinese disinformation campaign have been closed by Meta.
Meta Platforms has released its latest transparency threat report that revealed large scale takedowns of hate and disinformation campaigns on Facebook and Instagram. China and Russia, as well as Iran, were singled out for operating covert influence operations, with Meta taking down many thousands of Chinese accounts for “co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour” (aka spamouflage) linked to Chinese law enforcement. This is not an uncommon problem on Meta’s platforms. Last September Meta took down two covert influence campaigns run by China and Russia that targeted users in US, UK, EU, covering issues such as US mid terms and war in Ukraine.
The battle against online disinformation campaigns has been ongoing for years now. Recent examples include Covid misinformation on social media platforms, and Russia’s ongoing propaganda – both in the lead up to its second invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, and its ongoing aggression in that sovereign nation.
Now Meta has revealed that it has removed 7,704 Facebook accounts, 954 Pages, 15 Groups and 15 Instagram accounts for violating its policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior.
“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,” said Meta.
It said it began this investigation after reviewing public reporting about off-platform activity that targeted a human-rights NGO in late 2022. Following this lead, Meta was able to uncover a large and prolific covert influence operation which was active on more than 50 platforms and forums, including X (formerly Twitter), YouTube, TikTok, Reddit, Pinterest, Medium, Blogspot, LiveJournal, VKontakte, Vimeo, and dozens of smaller platforms and forums, as well as Facebook and Instagram.
“On our platform, this network was run by geographically dispersed operators across China who appear to have been centrally provisioned with internet access and content directions,” said Meta. “Many of their accounts were detected and disabled by our automated systems. We assess that this likely led the people behind it to increasingly shift to posting its content on smaller platforms and then trying to amplify it on larger services in hopes to maintain persistence.
According to Meta, this Chinese disinformation campaign typically posted positive commentary about China and its province Xinjiang (where Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghur minority group has prompted international sanctions) and criticisms of the United States, Western foreign policies, and critics of the Chinese government including journalists and researchers.
“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 stated.
“Spamouflage made heavy use of Medium, X (aka Twitter), Reddit, YouTube, Vimeo and Soundcloud,” said Meta.
Meta said this Chinese network also attempted to spread negative commentary about the US and disinformation in multiple languages about the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.
For example one duplicated and false headline identified by Meta researchers was translated as “Great clue! Suspicious US seafood received before the outbreak at Huanan Seafood Market.”
That comment was duplicated in eight different languages, including Russian and Latin.
Meta also provided an update about Russia and its network dubbed Doppelganger, focused on supporting Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
“We assess this campaign to be the largest and most aggressively persistent covert influence operation from Russia that we’ve seen since 2017,” said Meta. “Since our initial disruption and continuous scrutiny by platforms and researchers, Doppelganger continued to create new domains in an attempt to evade detection.”
“In total, we’ve blocked over 2,000 of the operation’s domains from being shared on our platform,” said Meta.
Last October Meta Platforms was declared a terrorist organisation by the Russian regime, which has already blocked Facebook and Instagram in the country.
This made it a criminal offence for Russian citizens to access Instagram or Facebook, even via a virtual private network (VPN).
Demand for VPN access has skyrocketed as Russian citizens seek to bypass Moscow’s censorship measures.