Aug 30, 2023 - Technology

Meta takes down largest online influence network in history

Illustration of a computer keyboard with a red return key resembling China's flag

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Meta has taken down what it believes is the biggest online influence operation of all time, the company announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: The wide-reaching, pro-Chinese operation targeted social media users in Taiwan, alongside users in a handful of the island's allies like the U.S., the U.K. and Japan, as anxieties over a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan grow.

Details: Meta estimated in its second-quarter threat report, released Tuesday, that the China-linked campaign involved 7,704 accounts, 954 pages, 15 groups on Facebook and 15 accounts on Instagram.

  • Researchers uncovered evidence of the campaign on more than 50 online platforms, including YouTube, TikTok, Reddit, Pinterest and X, formerly known as Twitter.
  • The campaign mostly spread pro-China messages, amplified criticisms of U.S. and other Western policies, and targeted journalists, human rights activists and other critics of the Chinese government.

What they're saying: "This is one of the single-biggest takedowns of coordinated inauthentic behavior that we've ever run into," Ben Nimmo, global threat intelligence lead at Meta, told reporters.

Yes, but: Campaign operators struggled to garner significant, authentic engagement or reach, much like most recent pro-Chinese influence campaigns.

Catch up quick: Meta believes the latest campaign is an extension of an ongoing effort known as "Spamouflage" that emerged in 2019.

The intrigue: Campaign operators started their scheme by posting content directly to Facebook and Instagram, but automated systems were quick to detect the posts, according to the report.

  • This prompted campaign operators to start posting on smaller platforms and later amplify those posts on Meta's social media sites.

What's next: Meta researchers expect the threat actors behind the campaign to rebuild and keep trying, despite consistently struggling to reach real people, Nimmo said.

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