Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has shut down a network of over 100 China-based accounts spreading pro-Beijing propaganda while posing as US and European entities.
The accounts used “sophisticated methods such as deep-fake images created through artificial intelligence to make the fake profiles look genuine” according to the company.
“We removed 107 Facebook accounts, 36 Pages, six Groups and 35 accounts on Instagram for violating our policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior,” stated Meta in the report.
Remarkably, the fake account network had amassed more than 15,000 followers on Meta’s platforms, indicating significant financial resources behind the operation. The network offered to pay people to attend protests against George Soros in Budapest through Twitter, and attempted to recruit freelance writers by offering them payment for contributing to its websites.
Chinese operation behind fake accounts
The network targeted many regions around the world, including Taiwan, Sub-Saharan Africa, Japan, Central Asia and the Uyghur community.
“This activity originated in China and targeted India and the Tibet region,” said Meta.
The report states that the operation targeted multiple internet and social media platforms to spread propaganda.
“They operated on many platforms, including on Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, YouTube, Medium, TikTok, Blogspot, Reddit, WordPress, freelancer.com, hacking forums and their own websites,” said Meta.
The Chinese operation also created a front entity called London New Europe Media Ltd, which posed as a media representation service registered in the UK.
It attempted to recruit content creators and translators globally and even commissioned individuals to record scripted English-language videos. Some of the recorded videos were posted on a YouTube channel to criticize the United States.
The individuals behind this network posted mainly in English, Russian, Uyghur, and Chinese about news and current events in the regions they targeted.
Asia, Africa, Refugees and Muslims targeted
Content posted by this Chinese network included discussions on geopolitics in Central Asia, allegations of US foreign policy in Africa, abuses against Muslim refugees in Europe, and criticism of politicians in Taiwan.
The group also made calls for protests against George Soros in Budapest and warned against boycotting the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The network alleged nuclear waste discharge from Fukushima in Japan, and made claims of comfortable living conditions for Uyghurs in China too.
“We found this activity as a result of our internal investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Meta.
“Although the people behind it attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to individuals in China associated with Xi’an Tianwendian Network Technology, an information technology company,” states the report.
The fake accounts and pages had a significant reach, with around 15,500 accounts following one or more of these pages, around 200 accounts joining one or more of these Groups, and about 200 accounts following one or more of these Instagram accounts.