By Katie Paul
(Reuters) – Meta Platforms said on Tuesday it had disrupted the first known China-based influence operation focused on targeting users in the United States with political content ahead of the November midterm elections.
Meta said in a report summarizing its findings that the network kept fake accounts on Meta’s social media platforms, such as Facebook (NASDAQ 🙂 and Instagram, as well as rival Twitter (NYSE), but it was small and did not attract many followers.
However, the report noted that the discovery was significant because it indicated a shift toward more direct interference in US domestic politics than previous well-known Chinese propaganda efforts.
“The Chinese operations we stopped before spoke primarily about America to the world, primarily in South Asia, not to the Americans themselves,” Ben Nimo, the head of global threat intelligence at META, told a news briefing.
“The message was basically ‘America is bad, China is good,'” he said of those operations, while the new operation prompted messages to Americans on both sides on contentious issues such as abortion and gun rights.
Another Meta executive said at the press conference that the company did not have enough evidence to say who was behind this activity in China.
Asked about Meta’s findings at a news conference, US Attorney General Merrick Garland said his office was “deeply concerned” about intelligence reports of foreign government interference in elections “which began some time ago and continues to the present.”
A Twitter spokesperson said the company was aware of the information in the Meta report and also closed the accounts.
According to a Meta report, the fake Chinese accounts were spread as liberal and conservative Americans to various states. They’ve been posting political memes and lurking in the comments of public figures’ posts since November 2021.
A typical screenshot showed an account attaching to a Facebook post by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, asking him to stop gun violence and the use of the hashtag #RubioChildrenKiller.
The same network also created fake accounts posing as people in the Czech Republic who criticize the Czech government for its approach to China, according to the report.
Meta also said it intercepted the largest and most sophisticated Russian operation since the war in Ukraine began, describing it as a sprawling network of more than 60 sites impersonating legitimate news organizations, along with some 4,000 social media accounts and petitions on sites such as the state-based campaign group Avaaz. United.
The operation mainly targeted users in Germany, as well as France, Italy, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, and spent more than $100,000 on ads promoting pro-Russian messaging.
On a few occasions, Russian embassies in Europe and Asia have amplified the content.
The Russian embassy in Washington said Meta’s move followed “the instructions of the US authorities” and constituted a violation of freedom of expression.
“This indicates that the American tech giants, who own the most popular Internet resource, have become servants of the US administration’s policy of suppressing dissent,” the embassy said on its Telegram channel.