Facebook: Pro-Chinese Influence Operation Was the Largest in History

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has exposed a vast misinformation operation led by China and Russia. This scheme aimed to spread falsehoods, targeting various platforms, forums, and even renowned organizations such as The Washington Post and NATO.

The purpose? To paint China’s human rights issues in a positive light and twist the narrative around Russia’s actions in Ukraine to appear as if Ukraine was attacking democracy. The scale was so vast that, for the first time, Meta traced these misleading campaigns back to individuals linked with Chinese law enforcement.

The depth of the operation was staggering. To combat these deceitful tactics, Meta had to remove thousands of Facebook accounts, pages, and even Instagram accounts. Most of these originated in China and targeted multiple countries, including the U.S., Australia, UK, and Japan.

Ben Nimmo, the leading investigator at Meta, commented on the magnitude of this operation, “It operates across more than 50 different platforms and services like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, Reddit, Quora, and Pinterest.”

What’s striking is the type of content they pushed out. Nimmo further explained, “It posts articles, cartoons, and videos that basically praise China, criticize the U.S. and Western countries, and then criticize anyone who speaks against the Chinese government.” This Chinese operation was termed ‘spamouflage’ since they used spammy tactics to hide their political posts.

Interestingly, mistakes by the Chinese hackers gave away their agenda. Sometimes they mismatched headlines with articles or consistently criticized the U.S. These errors hinted at a rush job, but their persistence was notable.

Meta’s findings also revealed a significant Russian misinformation campaign since 2017, aptly named Doppelganger. This operation created fake news websites mimicking prominent news outlets and injected false news articles as propaganda. For instance, a fake article claimed that the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was a CIA puppet. The real Washington Post had a different story altogether on the same day.

In the past, Ben Nimmo faced intimidation tactics from these misinformation agents. He was once declared deceased by thousands of Russian bots on Twitter, a crude attempt to deter him. He chuckled, “The nice thing about reading about your own death on the internet is that you can check your pulse, and you know it’s not true.”

Nimmo has been instrumental in helping Meta disrupt over 200 covert influence operations. This recent revelation is deemed the largest cross-platform operation disrupted by the company.

The operation is vast, targeting multiple audiences globally, spreading pro-Chinese messages. Although it did not achieve significant engagement, it was vast and persistent. When reached for comments, the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., stayed silent.

What’s alarming is that these campaigns keep evolving. Recent operations show signs of copying previous Russian schemes, trying to adapt and improve their tactics.

Editor’s note #1: We are always skeptical of Facebook calling out others for misinformation since they have shown extreme political bias in recent years. Are they revealing this to take some heat off? Or excuse some of their censorship behaviors?

Editor’s note #2: The Chinese and Russians are not that sloppy. If this is as crude as Facebook claims, you can bet that other operations with much better copy are backing it up in the shadows. Often times these kinds of ops come in layers, where the most obvious layer is a red herring to distract from more sophisticated operations.