Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has exposed a huge network of fake accounts and pages that were spreading propaganda and misinformation on behalf of the Chinese government. The network, which Meta says is the largest and most sophisticated one it has ever uncovered, operated across multiple platforms and languages, targeting audiences in Southeast Asia, the US, and Europe.
Meta’s security team said that the network used a combination of authentic and inauthentic accounts to amplify pro-China narratives, undermine democracy and human rights activists, and influence public opinion on various topics, such as the South China Sea dispute, the Hong Kong protests, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The network also created fake personas and organizations to pose as independent media outlets, experts, and activists, and used artificial intelligence to generate realistic profile pictures and videos.
Meta said that it removed more than 1,500 accounts, 1,300 pages, 50 groups, and 130 Instagram accounts that were part of this network, which had been active since 2016. Meta also shared its findings with other platforms, such as Twitter and YouTube, where some of the network’s activities were also detected. Meta estimated that the network reached more than 300 million people across different platforms and spent over $9 million on advertising.
Meta’s investigation was aided by tips from Graphika, a social media analysis firm, and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a think tank that focuses on security and defense issues. Both Graphika and ASPI published detailed reports on the network’s tactics and objectives, which they described as “unprecedented in scale and scope”. They also praised Meta for its transparency and cooperation in exposing the network.
Meta’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said that the network was “one of the most persistent threats” that Meta faces, and that it required “a whole-of-society response” to counter it. He also urged governments and civil society groups to work together to raise awareness and resilience among online users who may be vulnerable to such influence operations.