A massive social media disinformation campaign linked to Chinese law enforcement is no more, according to Meta.
In its latest report on what Facebook and Instagram’s parent company calls “coordinated inauthentic behavior” — usually covert state-sponsored social media campaigns designed to shape public opinion — Meta detailed the discovery of a huge network of fake accounts, pages and groups pushing positive talking points about China. On Facebook alone, Meta removed 7,704 accounts, 954 pages and 15 groups linked to the disinformation operation.
According to the report, the activity amounted to “what appears to be the largest known cross-platform covert influence operation in the world.” The campaign wasn’t limited to Facebook and Instagram, with a footprint that touched 50 other platforms including X (formerly Twitter), YouTube, TikTok, Reddit, Pinterest, Medium and many other smaller sites.
“This network typically posted positive commentary about China and its province Xinjiang and criticisms of the United States, Western foreign policies, and critics of the Chinese government including journalists and researchers,” Meta’s researchers wrote.
While such a large disinformation campaign is alarming, this particular effort didn’t gain much traction in spite of its size. The activity was based in China but sought to influence Chinese speakers outside of China as well as target audiences in Taiwan, the United States, Australia, the UK and Japan. In the process, the campaign took over Facebook pages known for posting spam, but these accounts were characterized by fake engagement originating in Vietnam, Bangladesh and Brazil, not the disinformation network’s intended targets.
In spite of its size, the influence campaign’s clumsy efforts didn’t result in much success:
“Despite the very large number of accounts and platforms it used, Spamouflage consistently struggled to reach beyond its own (fake) echo chamber. Many comments on Spamouflage posts that we have observed came from other Spamouflage accounts trying to make it look like they were more popular than they were. Only a few instances have been reported when Spamouflage content on Twitter and YouTube was amplified by real-world influencers, so it is important to keep reporting and taking action against these attempts while realizing that its overall ability to reach authentic audiences has been consistently very low.”
Researchers were able to connect the campaign to “Spamouflage,” a known China-based campaign operating for years now. While Meta is generally careful about ascribing influence campaigns to governments, the company did not hesitate to state that this one has firm ties to Chinese law enforcement.