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Meta Shut China Operation Aiming to Influence the US Midterms

  • Meta took down a China-based network which sought to influence the US midterms.
  • It was the first Chinese network Meta shut, which targeted US domestic politics before the midterms.
  • The propaganda operation was largely ineffective, as it mostly posted when Americans were sleeping.

Meta on Tuesday said it took down a China-based disinformation network which sought to influence the US midterms, although it was largely ineffective due to the time difference between the two countries and the propaganda workers’ regular working hours.

The network, which Meta described as “small” originated in China and ran across multiple social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, according to a Tuesday blogpost by Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead and David Agranovich, the company’s director of threat disruption.

Meta did not have enough evidence to identify who was behind the China-based operation, Reuters reported, citing a company executive at a press conference on Tuesday.

The network used tactics including fake accounts and political hashtags, said Meta in its report. Specifically, two clusters under the network “targeted both sides of the political spectrum in the US” in the English language.

Meta showed two memes featuring President Joe Biden and Republican senator Marco Rubio as examples of what the network disseminated. The meme with a photo of Biden included the words “One year in: Nothing is built, nothing is back, nothing is better.” The other meme showed a photo of Rubio and the words “$1.3 million from Russia, $3.3 million from NRA, Democracy for sale.” 

However, the influence operation was a failure, as the US-focused clusters attracted only “minimal reactions” to their posts. 

This was partly because propaganda workers were working regular nine-to-five shifts in China during weekdays and took long lunches, Meta wrote. “They appear to have had a substantial lunch break, and a much lower level of posting during weekends. This meant that the operation was mostly posting when Americans were sleeping,” per Meta. 

Some of the accounts posting the propaganda messages posted too sporadically and used bad English. Some accounts shared the same post into a few groups on one day, but then didn’t post for a week. “What they did post included linguistic errors: “I can’t live in an America on regression!”” per Meta.

Even though the China-based influence operation didn’t work, it is significant because it is the first Chinese network Meta “disrupted” which targeted US domestic politics ahead of the midterm elections, the tech company said. “Chinese influence operations that we’ve disrupted before typically focused on criticizing the United States to international audiences, rather than primarily targeting domestic audiences in the US,” according to Meta.

Meta also took down a Russia disinformation network that targeted Europe, it said in the same Tuesday blogpost. This network faked over 60 websites of real European news organizations and posted original articles supporting Russia in the war with Ukraine.

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