Meta, the parent company of Facebook, announced on Thursday that it had taken down a network of 4,789 fake Facebook accounts originating from China. These accounts were apparently created with the intention of polarizing voters ahead of the 2024 election in the United States. This incident highlights another example of attempted foreign interference in U.S. politics through social media.
The fake accounts were posing as genuine American-based accounts and made posts across multiple platforms. However, Meta stated that it shut down the network before it could gain engagement from authentic communities on its apps. Interestingly, the accounts did not spread false information but instead copied and pasted posts from politicians on both sides of the political spectrum, including Nancy Pelosi and Matt Gaetz.
Meta clarified that it is unclear whether the goal of the network was to build partisan tensions, gain audiences among the supporters of these politicians, or make the fake accounts appear more genuine by sharing authentic content.
In addition to the Chinese-originated network, Meta also shut down two smaller networks. One was targeting India and Tibet by posing as journalists and activists, while the other was a Russian network targeting English-speaking audiences worldwide.
While Russia has been the primary source of coordinated inauthentic behavior campaigns on social media, Meta's report suggests a growing influence of Chinese sources in online misinformation and polarization campaigns. Earlier this year, Meta removed over 7,500 inauthentic accounts linked to Chinese influence.
According to Ben Nimmo, Meta's global threat intelligence lead, these networks struggle to build audiences but serve as a warning. Foreign threat actors are attempting to reach people across the internet ahead of next year's elections, and vigilance is necessary.
It is worth noting that Russia first gained prominence as a purveyor of online misinformation in 2016 during the U.S. presidential elections. The Russian-based Internet Research Agency launched a propaganda campaign involving networks of fake social media accounts. The campaign resulted in the indictment of 13 Russian nationals in 2018 as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
Overall, this recent incident underscores the ongoing challenge of foreign interference in elections through social media platforms, with both Russia and China playing significant roles.