Chinese fake experts uncovered by Facebook

Meta Platforms, the company that owns Facebook, has deactivated over 500 accounts tied to a Chinese-based internet misinformation network.

The accounts pushed the allegations of a fictitious Swiss scientist named “Wilson Edwards,” who claimed the US was interfering with the search for Covid-19’s origins. Chinese official media channels prominently covered Edwards’ remarks. The Swiss embassy, on the other hand, stated that this individual was very unlikely to exist.

The social media effort, which was aimed at English-speaking audiences in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as Chinese-speaking audiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet, was “mostly ineffective,” according to Meta’s analysis.

In July, a Facebook and Twitter account posing as a Swiss biologist called Wilson Edwards said that the US was placing pressure on WHO researchers studying the roots of Covid-19 in an attempt to pin the virus on China.

Based on his Facebook page, state media agencies including CGTN, Shanghai Daily, and Global Times mentioned the so-called scientist.

The Swiss embassy, however, stated in August that the individual did not exist because the Facebook account was just two weeks old when the first post was made and had only three friends. “There was no record of a Swiss citizen with the name “Wilson Edwards” and no scholarly works under that name,” they continued, urging Chinese news organisations to remove any reference of him.

“Links to persons in mainland China, including workers of Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co Ltd… and individuals affiliated with Chinese state infrastructure enterprises headquartered across the world,” Meta Platforms claimed in a November report.

According to the company’s website, Sichuan Silence Information is a network and information security firm that offers technical help to China’s Ministry of Public Security and CNCERT, the primary team in charge of China’s cybersecurity emergency response.

After analysing public allegations about the bogus Swiss scientist, Facebook claimed it has deactivated 524 Facebook profiles, 20 pages, four groups, and 86 Instagram accounts.

According to Meta, the persona’s original post was shared and liked by phoney Facebook accounts before being forwarded by genuine users, the majority of whom were workers of Chinese state infrastructure businesses in over 20 countries.

The operation leveraged Virtual Personal Network (VPN) infrastructure to hide its origins and give Edwards a more developed personality, according to the report. It went on to say that his profile photo looked to be developed utilising machine-learning skills as well.

Covid-19’s roots have been a subject of contention between the US, China, and other countries, as the virus’s source remained unknown over two years after it was originally found.

This is not all when it comes to Chinese propaganda, according to recent research, a widespread network of more than 350 false social media personas is pushing pro-China themes and aiming to discredit people viewed as critics of China’s leadership.

The objective, according to the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), is to delegitimize the West while promoting China’s impact and reputation overseas.

The network of fraudulent personas, according to the investigation, distributed crude caricatures of exiled Chinese millionaire Guo Wengui, a vocal critic of China, and others. Li-Meng Yan, a “whistleblower” physicist, and Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former political strategist, were also depicted in the illustrations.

All of these people have been accused of distributing incorrect information, including misleading info regarding Covid-19.

Some of the identities, which can be found on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, have bogus AI-generated profile images, while others look to have been hijacked after posting in other languages.

According to the CIR, a non-profit that seeks to counter misinformation, there is no proof that the network is linked to the Chinese government, but it resembles pro-China networks that were earlier pulled down by Twitter and Facebook.

Pro-China narratives identical to those propagated by Chinese official authorities and state media were echoed by these networks. The network spends a lot of its attention on the United States, especially on controversial topics like gun laws and issues of racism.

One of the network’s storylines portrays the United States as having a terrible human rights record. The bogus accounts mention the death of George Floyd, as well as bigotry towards Asians, in their posts.

Some stories frequently reject human rights violations in the Xinjiang region, where experts claim China has arrested at least a million Muslims against their will, referring to the charges as “falsehoods concocted by the US and the West.”

According to CIR report author Benjamin Strick, the network’s purpose appears to invalidate the West by distributing pro-Chinese sentiments online.

This network bears striking resemblances to the so-called “Spamouflage Dragon” propaganda network discovered by social analytics firm Graphika.

The network broadcasted a regular stream of anti-US programming, such as praising the US ‘defeat’ ahead of its pullout from Afghanistan and portraying the US as a bad partner whose help to India was insufficient during India’s darkest months against Covid.

The CIR mapped hashtags used by previously detected influence networks, uncovering additional accounts that appeared to be part of a botnet.

High amounts of activity promoting propagandist narratives and the usage of the same hashtags were tell-tale signals. Accounts that were recently formed, accounts with usernames that looked to be produced at random and account with a small number of followers all triggered red lights.

Foreigners are being used in China’s misinformation campaign. Inside the pro-China network that has its sights set on the United States, Hong Kong, and an exiled tycoon. Infiltrating Chinese-American far-right networks undercover

Some accounts were formed specifically to post original material, while others were made just to share, like, and comment on those original postings to help them reach a larger audience.  Because it is aimed to provide the illusion of a grass-roots movement, this type of action is sometimes referred to as “astroturfing.”