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Facebook removes Chinese disinformation campaign operating in Asia, US

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  • Facebook said in a blog post Tuesday that it had removed two coordinated disinformation campaigns, one from China and another from the Philippines.
  • The network focused mostly on regional political issues and “gained almost no following” in the US, according to Facebook.
  • “The operation’s success in audience building was mixed,” Graphika, a social media analysis firm that Facebook asked to examine the network, said in its report.
  • The intelligence community has repeatedly said that Russia poses a larger threat to the integrity of the 2020 US elections, though Trump and top administration officials have attempted to play up China’s role.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Facebook announced Tuesday that it had removed two disinformation networks, one originating in China and the other in the Philippines, for violating its “coordinated inauthentic behavior” policy.

“In each case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts as a central part of their operations to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing,” Facebook head of security Nathaniel Gleicher wrote in a blog post.

The Chinese network “focused primarily on the Philippines and Southeast Asia more broadly, and also on the United States,” using fake accounts to pose as locals, posting mostly about “naval activity in the South China Sea, including US Navy ships,” according to the company.

Within the Philippines, the network posted content supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte. The Philippines have long been a US ally but Duterte has realigned the country with China since assuming the presidency in 2016.

“In the US, where this network focused the least and gained almost no following, they posted content both in support of and against presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Donald Trump,” Facebook said.

Facebook said its action against the Chinese network consisted of removing “155 accounts, 11 Pages, 9 Groups and 6 Instagram accounts” that had gained around 133,000 followers and 61,000 group members in total.

Separately, the company removed a network of “57 Facebook accounts, 31 Pages and 20 Instagram accounts” that originated in the Philippines and had gained around 280,000 total followers, which it said it had been alerted to by Rappler, an independent Filipino news outlet.

That network posted about “domestic politics, military activities against terrorism, [a] pending anti-terrorism bill, criticism of communism, youth activists and opposition,” and various local political groups.

Facebook also enlisted help from the social media analysis firm Graphika, which published its report this week on the Chinese network, which it dubbed “Naval Gazing,” that concluded “the operation’s success in audience building was mixed.”

According to Graphika, the content “reflected Chinese messaging, both overt and covert, on issues such as the Hong Kong protests, Taiwan’s independence, and COVID-19” and “promoted China’s position in its geopolitical rivalry with the United States, especially in the South China Sea,” also making novel use of “covert assets to promote favored politicians — notably members of the Duterte family.”

“Its use of fake American accounts was also novel, but these assets were generally too rudimentary to establish a persona,” Graphika concluded.

This marks the second time Facebook has taken action against a Chinese disinformation network, and in both cases the networks’ reach had been fairly limited.

While most intelligence officials and experts believe Russia has been much more active spreading US election-related disinformation, President Donald Trump, along with political appointees and Republicans loyal to him, have frequently sought to shift the focus to China, often without providing detailed evidence to back up that assessment.

Democrats have claimed that appointees of President Donald Trump are intentionally downplaying Russia’s role in order to appease the president, who has repeatedly brushed off the intelligence community’s findings that Russia interfered on his behalf in the 2016 elections and is doing so again this year.

That claim was bolstered earlier this month when a Department of Homeland Security official accused the agency’s leaders of suppressing intelligence related to Russian interference; altering intelligence assessments to match Trump’s false claims about Russia, antifa, and illegal immigration; and making false statements to Congress.

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