California: Meta, the parent organisation of Facebook and Instagram, said that it has taken down a Chinese misinformation network that attempted to spread false claims about Coronavirus using a fake Swiss biologist, The Guardian reported. The organisation has removed more than 600 accounts linked to the network that had Chinese state employees' involvement.
The details of Meta's investigation on the network were included in its 'coordinated inauthentic behaviour" (CIB) report. Meta describes CIB as "coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal. Here fake accounts are central to the operation". The report also talks about Meta taking down networks in Palestine, Belarus and Poland.
The Chinese network of accounts focused on a Swiss biologist named Wilson Edwards, about whom the Swiss embassy in Beijing stated does not exist, claiming in Facebook and Twitter that the United States was pressuring the World Health Organisation (WHO) to blame China for the emergence of Coronavirus.
The fake account first emerged on July 24, 2021. Its post claimed that WHO sources and fellow researchers have complained of the US's hand on the WHO's plan for a renewed Covid origins investigation. The network amplified the post later in a coordinated manner using a mix of fake and authentic narratives. Within a week after this, Chinese state media ran headlines linked to Edward's post.
But the network's vast campaign was unsuccessful since its efforts couldn't "attract any authentic engagement," Meta said. It had targeted audiences in the US, the UK and the Chinese speakers in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet.
Meta removed 524 Facebook accounts, 20 pages, four groups and 86 Instagram accounts linked to the network. These were handled by individuals at Chinese state infrastructure companies in civil engineering, power generation, telecoms and transport businesses around the world. Also, employees of a Chinese mainland information security firm, Sichuan Silence Information Technology, that works with China's Ministry of Public Security, Meta said. it added that some of 200 fake accounts from the network had profile pictures created by artificial intelligence.
The company said in its report that the campaign was a hall of mirrors, endlessly reflecting a single fake persona. It is the first time Meta is observing an operation of a coordinated cluster of state employees. It also found that Chinese government officials interacted with the fake content within an hour of posting.
The report further says the removal of 141 Facebook accounts and 21 Instagram accounts from the Gaza Strip in Palestine, which primarily targeted Palestinians and was owned by Hamas. Many of the profiles donned young women from West Bank or Sinai in Egypt. Their content included postponed Palestinian election, criticism of Israeli defence policy, Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas, and supportive commentary about Hamas.
In Poland, Meta took down 31 Facebook accounts and four Instagram accounts that targeted Belarus and Iraq. Meta said that the contained network tried to dissuade people from entering the European Union. The fake personas shared their own negative experiences of moving from Belarus to Poland and posted about migrants' complicated lives in Europe.
They posted about Poland's anti-migrant policies and the country's anti-migrant neo-Nazi activity. In Belarus, 41 Facebook pages were removed along with four Instagram accounts, which targeted the Middle East and Europe.