Meta, the parent company of social media giants Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, recently disclosed the dismantling of a substantial network of over 4,700 fake accounts originating from China. This network was involved in a sophisticated operation where users posed as Americans, spreading polarizing content related to US politics and US-China relations.
In its quarterly threat report, Meta detailed how these accounts impersonated prominent figures such as Nancy Pelosi, Gretchen Whitmer, Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz, and Jim Jordan. Remarkably, this network exhibited a mix of conflicting viewpoints on issues like abortion and US-China relations, demonstrating no clear ideological consistency.
Meta's moderation policies strictly prohibit "coordinated inauthentic behavior," where groups of accounts collaborate using false identities to mislead users. The company successfully detected and halted this Chinese network before it could gain significant traction among real users.
Meta exposes major China-based social networks
This recent disclosure is part of Meta's ongoing efforts to combat deceptive online campaigns. In the current year alone, Meta has removed five coordinated influence networks from China. These fake accounts, totaling 4,789, were engaged in a campaign that involved praising China, criticizing its critics, and mimicking real online posts by US politicians.
Ben Nimmo, Meta's global threat intelligence lead, emphasized the need for vigilance against foreign threat actors, particularly with upcoming elections. He pointed out the deceptive online campaigns originating from China, warning of their potential to influence the 2024 elections in the United States and elsewhere.
While Meta tracked the source of these networks to China, the company did not explicitly link them to the Chinese government. This revelation highlights the evolving nature of online influence operations, with foreign actors adapting their strategies to leverage authentic political debates.
The most prolific source of such networks has been Russia, particularly focusing on undermining support for its war against Ukraine. However, there has been a shift in Russian campaigns, with associated websites now exploiting the conflict between Hamas and Israel to tarnish the image of the United States.
As Meta continues to tackle deceptive campaigns, this disclosure raises concerns about the potential shift in influence operations, especially as US-China relations become a central topic in elections. With the intensification of election campaigns, there is an expectation that foreign actors may use authentic debates to further their objectives, posing a challenge to democratic processes globally.