Meta crackdown: 7,000 fake accounts tied to Chinese propaganda shut down
In its single largest takedown, Meta has removed 7,000 fake accounts linked to a previously known pro-China influence operation called ‘Spamouflage’
In an effort to disrupt a Chinese propaganda campaign, social media giant Meta has removed thousands of Facebook and several Instagram accounts.
Among the now removed accounts, 7,704 are Facebook accounts, 954 are Facebook pages, 15 are Facebook groups, and are 15 Instagram accounts, making it one of the largest networks of fake accounts ever discovered by the company, which owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
Hundreds of other accounts on TikTok, X (formerly Twitter), LiveJournal, and Blogspot also took part in the campaign, which Meta’s report calls 'Spamouflage', for the frequent posting of spam-like messages.
According to the tech giant, the fake accounts tried to spread pro-China messages, including "positive commentary about China and its province Xinjiang and criticisms of the US, Western foreign policies, and critics of the Chinese government, including journalists and researchers".
“This is the biggest takedown of a single network we have ever conducted,” Ben Nimmo of Meta’s security team told New York Times. “When you put it together with all the activity we took down across the internet, we concluded it is the largest covert campaign that we know of today."
According to a review by New York Times, while Meta has removed the campaign from Facebook and Instagram, many of the operation’s accounts on platforms like X, Reddit and Tiktok remain active. The influence operation was the seventh from China that Meta has removed in the last six years.
The accounts frequently posted identical messages on different social media platforms in an attempt to spread pro-China messaging online. The network was “wide and noisy”, Nimmo said, adding that it struggled to reach people partly because “it was the same comment many times a day”.
“It was as if they copied them from a numbered list and forgot to proofread them before they posted,” he remarked.
On Tuesday, Meta said in a blog post, “We recently took down thousands of accounts and pages that were part of the largest known cross-platform covert influence operation in the world. It targeted more than 50 apps, including Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube, TikTok, Reddit, Pinterest, Medium, Blogspot, LiveJournal, VKontakte, Vimeo, and dozens of smaller platforms and forums.”
The Chinese campaign struggled to reach people and attract attention, Mr. Nimmo told New York Times. Some posts were riddled with spelling errors and poor grammar, while others were inconsistent, for instance, random links under Quora articles that had nothing to do with the subject being discussed.
The operation initially focused on disparaging the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. In February 2020, the effort shifted to the outbreak of Covid-19, diverting claims about China being the source of the virus and pinning blame on the United States.
Despite the size of the effort, Meta claimed that the people behind the fake accounts were not particularly skilled or successful in their efforts to go viral.
"Spamouflage consistently struggled to reach beyond its own (fake) echo chamber. Many comments on Spamouflage posts that we have observed came from other Spamoflauge accounts trying to make it look like they were more popular than they were," Meta said.
The company also observed that the network targeted many regions globally, including Taiwan, the US, Australia, the UK, Japan, and global Chinese-speaking audiences.
Meanwhile, Meta has rolled out additional transparency features on threads, including labelling state-controlled media and showing additional information about accounts so that people can know, for example, if accounts may have changed their names.
With inputs from IANS