A Chinese network of spammers targeted President Donald Trump in the latest foreign attempt to interfere in American elections, reported Fox News. The group used social media platforms to spread their anti-Trump and pro-China positions.
Graphika, a firm that specializes in the analysis of social media platforms, detected the activity of the Chinese network, called “Spamoflague Dragon,” last year. Tensions have increased between the United States and China following the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. The virus, which originated in Wuhan Province in China, spread worldwide and the United States has been particularly critical of how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) dealt with the outbreak and its aftermath.
Graphika’s report of its findings highlighted two important ways that the spammers’ latest activity is different from previous Chinese attempts to exploit social media. “First, it includes a wealth of videos in English and targets the United States, especially its foreign policy, its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, its racial inequalities, and its moves against TikTok,” the report on the firms’ website states. “This is the first time the network has published substantial volumes of English-language content alongside its ongoing Chinese coverage–a clear expansion of its scope. The network was particularly active, and reactive to current events, in the period of investigation: videos commenting on recent U.S. official statements were created and uploaded in less than 36 hours.”
The Graphika report continued, “Second, it is the first time that we have seen Spamouflage Dragon use clusters of accounts with AI-generated profile pictures. Other operations are known to have done so, but this is the first time the practice has been adopted by this particular network. Given the ease with which threat actors can now use publicly available services to generate fake profile pictures, this tactic is likely to become increasingly prevalent.”
It is unknown if the Spamoflauge Dragon network is connected to the ruling CCP, but Graphika noted a shift in the network’s emphasis earlier this year that matched that of the Chinese government line. “In March, as the Chinese government’s narrative shifted to arguing that China had responded better than the United States, it tweeted about the reported wave of xenophobic attacks on Chinese Americans linked to the outbreak,” a Graphika report stated.
The Spamoflauge Dragon network has been removed from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Social media companies are increasing their vigilance in light of the increasing sophistication of foreign efforts to undermine U.S. elections this fall. Twitter enthusiastically welcomes help in finding and removing foreign threats. “We welcome the chance to collaborate with external stakeholders, including Graphika on identifying and taking action on attempts to manipulate the conversation on Twitter,” a spokesperson from the company said. “As we shared during a recent series of workshops on information operations with the Carnegie PCIO, we rely on partnerships to do this work, and are committed to growing the public, shared understanding of this issue. When we identify information operation campaigns that we can reliably attribute to state-backed activity, we disclose them to the public.” Social media platforms have been under scrutiny since the 2016 presidential elections when foreign actors utilized them to spread disinformation and chaos.
The videos from Spamoflauge Dragon contained various errors that would indicate a lack of intimate knowledge of the English language and American idioms. The removed videos had very few views and did not seem to attract much attention from social media users.