Meta took down thousands of accounts in “what appears to be the largest known cross-platform covert influence operation in the world,” the company said in a transparency report published today. The operation targeted more than 50 platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, X (previously Twitter), YouTube, TikTok, and Reddit.
The campaign promoted “positive commentary” about China and Xinjiang province, where the Chinese government has been accused of human rights abuses and forced labor targeting members of the Uyghur ethnic minority. Other posts criticized the US, Western foreign policies, and journalists and researchers seen as “critics” of the Chinese government, according to Meta.
The influence campaign was based in China but targeted “many regions,” Meta says, including the US, Taiwan, Australia, the UK, and Japan. Meta says it was able to link the operation to “individuals associated with Chinese law enforcement” and similar campaigns it’s been trying to stamp out since 2019 that it’s collectively dubbed “Spamouflage.”
The influence campaign was based in China but targeted “many regions”
Meta found clusters of fake accounts that seemed to post on a regular schedule, suggesting that the people behind them might have been working together in a shared office with meal breaks. They would spread similar content across multiple platforms, with misleading headlines like “U.S. bombing of Nord Stream is the first step in the ‘European destruction plan.’”
All in all, Meta took down 7,704 Facebook accounts, 954 Pages, 15 Groups, and 15 Instagram accounts. Despite the breadth of the operation, it didn’t succeed in gaining too many authentic followers, Meta says. The network acquired “spammy Pages whose inauthentic following likely came from fake engagement farms.” So many of the followers were fake and from places including Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Brazil that weren’t locations the disinformation campaign likely planned to target.
The Spamoflouage network is increasingly targeting smaller platforms since Meta started cracking down on it in 2019, the report says. That includes regional platforms like Chinese financial forum nanyangmoney[.]com and Australian local forum Melbournechinese[.]net.
While it’s the largest disinformation campaign, it wasn’t the only one Meta flagged in its report today. It removed dozens of accounts linked to several other covert influence campaigns targeting Türkiye that violated its policies. And after cracking down on a Russia-based operation to spread disinformation about the war in Ukraine last year, Meta says the campaign has since spread from targeting countries in Europe to aiming at new audiences in the US and Israel. Impersonating news outlets was a key tactic many of these campaigns share.