In a recent quarterly threat report released by Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, it was revealed that Meta has successfully dismantled an extensive network of over 4,700 fake accounts originating from China. These accounts, pretending to be Americans and Indians, were actively involved in disseminating misleading information on divisive topics related to US politics and US-China relations, as well as Indian politics.
While Meta did not explicitly tie the profiles to Chinese officials in Beijing, the company expressed concerns about the surge in such networks originating from China, especially with the approaching 2024 US elections. According to Meta, China now ranks as the third-largest geographical source of such deceptive networks, trailing behind Russia and Iran.
The deceptive Chinese network, as outlined in the report, engaged in a variety of topics such as abortion, culture war issues, and aid to Ukraine. The accounts utilized profile pictures and names stolen from legitimate users worldwide, sharing and liking each other’s posts. Notably, some content appeared directly copied from X, formerly Twitter.
Among the accounts’ activities, some were found to copy verbatim posts from US politicians, Democrats, and Republicans, including figures like Nancy Pelosi, Gretchen Whitmer, Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz, and Jim Jordan. Meta emphasized that the network displayed no consistent ideological stance.
Meta’s report raised questions about the network’s objectives, stating, “It’s unclear whether this approach was designed to amplify partisan tensions, build audiences among these politicians’ supporters, or to make fake accounts sharing authentic content appear more genuine.”
The company’s moderation policies strictly prohibit “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” referring to posts from groups of accounts working together with false identities to mislead users. While the content shared by these networks often references accurate news stories, Meta highlighted that the intent is to manipulate public opinion, sow division, and artificially boost certain viewpoints.
According to Meta, the extensive Chinese network was thwarted before gaining traction among real users. Ben Nimmo, leading investigations into inauthentic behavior at Meta, commented that these networks “still struggle to build audiences, but they’re a warning,” emphasizing the ongoing efforts by foreign threat actors to influence people online ahead of the upcoming elections.
In addition to the sizeable Chinese network, Meta also uncovered two smaller networks—one from China focusing on India and Tibet, and another from Russia posting primarily in English about the invasion of Ukraine and promoting Telegram channels. The report underscored that Russian networks, previously scrutinized since the 2016 election, have shifted focus to the Ukraine conflict, attempting to undermine international support for Kyiv.
In a notable development, Meta highlighted that the US government ceased sharing information about foreign influence networks with the company in July following a federal ruling related to a First Amendment legal case. This decision is currently under consideration by the Supreme Court, contributing to the broader debate about the collaboration between the US government and tech companies and its potential impact on the free speech of social media users.