Chinese Disinformation Network Dismantled By Facebook

Facebook is dismantling a significant and highly sophisticated disinformation network supporting the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, announced that it had identified connections between individuals linked to Chinese law enforcement and a long-standing yet largely ineffective pro-China “Spamouflage” influence campaign. “We assess that it’s the largest, though unsuccessful, and most prolific covert influence operation that we know of in the world today,” said Meta Global Threat Intelligence Lead Ben Nimmo.

In its quarterly security report, the social media giant disclosed that it had taken down approximately 7,700 Facebook accounts and numerous pages, groups, and Instagram accounts associated with this campaign. Some aspects of this operation had been active since 2018.

Meta said these fake accounts are managed from various regions within China, but they shared common digital infrastructure and followed apparent work schedules, including designated breaks for lunch and dinner based on Beijing time.

The campaign was active on more than 50 platforms and forums, including Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube, TikTok, Reddit, Pinterest, Medium, Blogspot, LiveJournal, VKontakte, Vimeo, and dozens of additional smaller platforms and forums.

Jason Keirstead, VP of Collective Threat Defense, Cyware had this comment:

   “One of the ways in which social media companies could more effectively combat disinformation campaigns is through more effective collaboration and coordination, made possible by using frameworks such as those provided by the DISARM foundation ( Cybersecurity practitioners should be encouraging large social media companies to become more actively involved in the work of the foundation, and of the disinformation sharing standards it supports such as DAD-CDM ( Development and support of these standards will allow government and industry to work together to combat disinformation campaigns more effectively.”

David Mitchell, Chief Technical Officer, HYAS:

   “China appears to be playing a PR campaign to shine their activities in a positive light, especially when it comes to Taiwan and human rights. While this campaign doesn’t appear to have made an impact, it shows that they are tuning their capabilities to mimic what the Russians have previously pulled off. 

   “Based on the ties to Chinese law enforcement, this also could be an op to target and identify ex-pats overseas that do not agree with their views — potentially to relay to the Chinese police stations discovered in US and other cities. 

   “Security personnel, whether executive level or operators, should pay attention to disinformation campaigns just as they would an attack campaign. Disinformation can target a company (Anheuser-Busch InBev) and the links may also include phishing or malware that employees may click on, if the targeted message fits their views.”

   “While it is fantastic that Meta is finally taking a proactive stance against disinformation campaigns, this problem is going to continue to get worse during geo-political strife and election seasons. Because these platforms do not verify the identity of accounts, nor charge for their services, they are rife for coordinated nation state abuse. Dealing with these campaigns will always be a global form of whack-a-mole and will not change until social media networks change how they are monetized & valued – just a few dollars per user per month significantly increases the barrier to entry for malicious actors.”

Every social media platform needs to step up and do more to combat this sort of disinformation. If Facebook/Meta can do this, there’s zero excuse for other platforms to not do so as well.

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