Sep 22, 2020 - Technology

Facebook takes down Chinese campaign aimed at U.S. election

Fingers pointing at China

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Facebook said Tuesday it took down the first-ever coordinated inauthentic campaign engaged in U.S. politics that originated from China.

Why it matters: China is upping its online disinformation game beyond its own borders. The effort was part of a larger campaign that targeted Southeast Asia.

  • In recent months, China has abandoned its typical disinformation tactics focused on national propaganda and adopted a more Russian-like approach — using fake news to manipulate adversaries and boast its reputation abroad.
  • While there's no proof the Chinese campaign was state-sponsored, it falls in line with broader tactics now being leveraged by the Communist Party.

Details: Facebook said Tuesday on a call with reporters that it removed two separate networks for violating its policies against coordinated inauthentic behavior: One from China and the other from the Philippines.

The Chinese campaign was primarily aimed at Southeast Asia, with a small number of posts that targeted the U.S.

  • The activity originated in the Fujian province of China and focused on the Philippines and the U.S. The campaign used VPNs in an attempt to mask its identity.
  • Facebook's Head of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher said the company found no evidence that the campaign, at this point, is linked to the government.
  • Facebook said the U.S. part of the campaign "gained almost no following," but posted content for and against Pete Buttigieg, President Trump and Joe Biden.
  • The rest of the campaign focused on Southeast Asia and discussed global news and current events in Filipino and Chinese dialects.
  • Facebook removed 155 accounts, 11 pages, 9 groups and 6 Instagram accounts for violating its foreign or government interference policy and engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign entity.
  • The company said around $60 was uncovered in spending for Facebook ads in Chinese yuan.

The Filipino campaign, Facebook says, has been linked to the nation's government, but focused on domestic Filipino audiences.

  • Facebook said it removed 57 Facebook accounts, 31 Pages and 20 Instagram accounts linked to this operation. The company added that around $1,100 was uncovered in spending for ads on Facebook paid for in Philippine peso.

The big picture: This isn't the first time Facebook has uncovered a Chinese-based influence operation. The company said it removed a coordinated inauthentic behavior campaign originating from China in August 2019. That campaign, however, was focused on Hong Kong, and there was no evidence that it targeted America politics whatsoever.

Go deeper: China adopts Russia's disinformation playbook

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