Meta takes down Chinese Facebook accounts posing as US military families

The accounts posted about aircraft carriers and Taiwan.

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Meta has taken down a network of fake accounts that posed as US military families and anti-war activists. The fake accounts on Facebook and Instagram originated in China and targeted US audiences, according to the company’s security researchers.

Meta detailed the takedowns in its latest report on coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB). The cluster of fake accounts was relatively small — 33 Facebook accounts, four Instagram profiles, six pages and six groups on Facebook. The accounts posted about US aircraft carriers and other “military themes,” as well as “criticism of US foreign policy towards Taiwan and Israel and its support of Ukraine,” Meta wrote in its report.

The group also ran accounts on YouTube and Medium and shared an online petition “claiming to have been written by Americans to criticize US support for Taiwan.” The company’s researchers said the fake accounts originated in China, but didn’t attribute the effort to a specific entity or group. During a call with reporters, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead Ben Nimmo said that there has been a rise in China-based influence operations over the last year.

“The greatest change in the threat landscape,” Nimmo said, “has been this emergence of Chinese influence operations.” Nimmo said. He noted that Meta has taken down 10 CIB networks originating in China since 2017, but that six of those takedowns came in the last year. Last summer, Meta discovered and removed an especially large network of thousands of fake accounts that attempted to spread pro-China propaganda messages on the platform.

In both cases, the fake accounts were apparently unsuccessful at spreading their message. The latest network only managed to reach about 3,000 Facebook accounts, according to Meta, and the two Instagram pages had no followers at the time they were discovered.

Still, Meta’s researchers note that attempts like this will likely continue ahead of the 2024 election and that people with large audiences should be wary of resharing unverified information. “Our threat research shows that, historically, the main way that CIB networks get through to authentic communities is when they manage to co-opt real people — politicians, journalists or influencers — and tap into their audiences,” the report says. “Reputable opinion-makers represent an attractive target and should exercise caution before amplifying information from unverified sources, particularly ahead of major elections.”