In a significant move, Meta, led by Mark Zuckerberg, has taken action against a substantial Chinese disinformation campaign, erasing close to 8,000 Facebook accounts involved. This operation, described as the “largest known cross-platform covert influence operation in the world,” was unveiled in a report issued on Tuesday.
Extent of Meta’s Action
Meta’s comprehensive crackdown on this covert operation resulted in the removal of 7,704 accounts and 954 pages from Facebook, along with the deletion of 15 accounts from Instagram due to violations of its policy on coordinated inauthentic behavior.
The influence operation extended its reach across more than 50 social media platforms and forums, encompassing various apps including YouTube, Pinterest, Reddit, and X (formerly Twitter). The campaign largely shared “positive commentary” concerning China and its Xinjiang region, known for alleged government-backed mistreatment of Uyghur Muslims.
Dissemination of False Narratives
In addition to its supportive content about China, the network disseminated false narratives, such as the claim that COVID-19 originated in the United States. These misleading messages were distributed through spam, links, memes, and text posts, and the operation invested approximately $3,500 (£2,767) in Facebook ads.
Global Reach and Implications
The network’s origins are traced back to China, with a global impact spanning regions including the UK, Taiwan, the United States, Australia, and Japan. Meta’s investigation uncovered links to individuals associated with Chinese law enforcement, highlighting the meticulous nature of this operation.
Past Connections and Industry Learning
Meta’s probe revealed that the network had connections to a previous covert operation called Spamouflage, which had displayed similar spammy activity since August 2019. Interestingly, parallels were identified between Spamouflage’s tactics and those employed by a pro-Russian disinformation campaign called Secondary Infektion. This shared methodology suggests potential knowledge exchange among operators involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior.
Meta’s Response to Covert Influence
Meta’s action against this extensive and complex influence operation underscores its commitment to thwarting misinformation and deceptive activities on its platforms. As the investigation continues, the industry’s response to such challenges remains a focal point.