The social media giants with regularity announce how they block accounts with misinformation and fake accounts for political manipulation. The latest example of fake political accounts is a study from the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) showing there are many hundreds fake social media profiles promoting Chinese politics and discrediting opponents of China’s government.
US President Joe Biden and others have criticized social media for not doing enough to block misinformation. Facebook’s vice president of integrity, Guy Rosen, has defended the company saying it blocks “millions of fake accounts” every day.
According to Rosen, Facebook “removed over 100 networks of coordinated inauthentic behaviour” (or groups of pages working together to intentionally mislead the public) in the last three years.
DISTORTING INTERNATIONAL PERCEPTIONS
The CIR report says its research is evidence of a deliberate effort to distort international perceptions on significant issues.
”In this case, the perceptions are in favour of China. If we value the ability to have open and honest discussions and develop informed opinions on social media, then understanding who is trying to influence us, and how, is important”, the Centre says.
“By conducting a manual review of many of the accounts across all platforms, we estimate there are between 300-500 accounts on Twitter, 40-55 accounts and pages on Facebook and 12 accounts on YouTube.”
”A coordinated influence operation on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is using a mix of fake and repurposed accounts to push pro-China narratives and distort perceptions on important issues.”
The report says that the network targets subjects such as US gun laws, COVID-19, human rights’ abuses in Xinjiang, overseas conflicts and racial discrimination in ”a bid to inflame tensions, deny remarks critical of China, and target western governments.”
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
Some accounts deny human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region, where experts say China has detained at least a million Muslims against their will. The fake accounts call the allegations “lies fabricated by the United States and the West”.
The fake accounts publish content in English and Chinese.
”The narratives seen in this influence operation have similarities to content seen on the accounts of Chinese Government representatives and China state-linked media, however this is not an indication of attribution.”
“Pro-China influence operations have maintained a consistent presence on western social media platforms with early operations being identified as far back as April 2017. These operations offer an insight into the tactics, narratives and targets of information campaigns waged to elevate China’s status, and discredit opponents at the political and individual level.”
”This influence operation has similar hallmarks to networks that were taken down by social media platforms in the past. It is likely that this operation is a continuation of those past efforts.”
To make the fake accounts look trustworthy, they use AI tools creating identities. ”The accounts identified in this influence operation on Twitter used a mix of StyleGAN machine-learning generated images as profile pictures and relied on a much larger network of accounts using more authentic appearing images, anime images and repurposed accounts.”
Ross Burley, CIR’s Co-Founder and Executive Director, said:
“This influence operation has similar hallmarks to networks that were taken down by social media platforms in the past. It is likely that this operation is a continuation of those past efforts. We urge the platforms mentioned in this report to investigate the network, formally offer attribution and take it down. It’s important those responsible for its existence are exposed.
“The accounts identified in this influence operation on Twitter used a mix of StyleGAN machine-learning generated images as profile pictures and relied on a much larger network of accounts using more authentic appearing images, anime images and repurposed accounts.
“On Facebook and YouTube, many of the accounts also appeared to be repurposed. There was evidence of previous authentic-appearing ownership of the accounts, indicating that at some point there was a change of ownership.”
The reports says there was evidence of previous authentic-appearing ownership of the accounts indicating that at some point there was a change of ownership, either through a takeover from password dumps or a purchase from a seller of stolen accounts.
The author of the report and CIR’s Director of Investigations, Benjamin Strick, said:
“Our research shows evidence of a deliberate effort to distort international perceptions on significant issues – in this case, in favour of China. The aim of the network appears to be to delegitimize the West by amplifying pro-Chinese narratives. There appears to be close overlaps in narratives shared by the network, to those shared by the social media accounts of China State representatives and state-linked media.
The Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) is a UK-based independent, non-profit social enterprise dedicated to identifying, countering and exposing influence operations.