Meta Uncovers Global "Spamouflage" Operation Linked to China
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Meta Platforms has dismantled the most expansive covert online influence campaign to date, geared towards promoting China's narrative while discrediting its opposition, especially the U.S.
Despite spanning thousands of accounts across over 50 applications like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and others, the operation, labeled "Spamouflage" in security circles, found minimal success. Originating in 2019, it's linked to individuals connected to Chinese law enforcement. The scheme disseminated positive content about China and critiques of Western policies, especially the U.S.
Although Meta’s automated systems identified and deactivated many accounts, leading to a shift to smaller platforms, Meta stated, “We have not found evidence of this network getting any substantial engagement among authentic communities on our services.”
The Chinese government has consistently rejected allegations of online influence campaigns against the U.S. When confronted with Meta's claims, the Chinese embassy in Washington stressed its opposition to disinformation, pointing out the rife misleading content about China on U.S. social media.
This marks Meta's seventh takedown linked to China in six years. Another significant takedown involved "Doppelganger," a significant Russian operation aiming to dilute support for Ukraine. This strategy used websites mimicking legitimate news sources, making them harder to contest. Meta emphasized the limitations of countering these operations when the deceptive websites remain active.
Post the 2016 U.S. presidential election interference attributed to Russia, Meta and other platforms have heightened their scrutiny of coordinated attempts to manipulate public sentiment.
These clandestine social media campaigns present a perennial challenge. Ben Nimmo, Meta's global threat intelligence lead, described the operation’s approach as "throwing spaghetti at the wall." He speculated whether the real goal was influencing public opinion or merely fulfilling a contract.
Amid escalating tensions between the U.S., China, and Russia, with concerns like China's increased military presence in Cuba and the U.S.'s resistance to Russia's actions in Ukraine, such revelations add another layer of complexity to global relations.
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