China-based hackers impersonated American voters online and used artificial intelligence (AI) to create and promote divisive online content during the 2022 midterm elections, according to a report by Microsoft.
“Ahead of the 2022 U.S. midterms, Microsoft and industry partners observed CCP-affiliated social media accounts impersonating U.S. voters—new territory for CCP-affiliated [influence operations],” the report reads.
“These accounts posed as Americans across the political spectrum and responded to comments from authentic users.”
The report includes examples of visual content created by Chinese communist actors using artificial intelligence. These included images supporting “Black Lives Matter,” the false claim that “most black people are killed by police,” and more generic anti-American rhetoric.
The report states that the AI-generated content is more “eye-catching” than China’s previous attempts at overseas propaganda and will likely be improved upon and used against Americans in the future.
“We have observed China-affiliated actors leveraging AI-generated visual media in a broad campaign that largely focuses on politically divisive topics, such as gun violence, and denigrating U.S. political figures and symbols,” the report reads.
World’s Largest Covert Influence Operation
Publication of the report comes less than two weeks after tech giant Meta purged thousands of accounts linked to Chinese law enforcement from its platforms.
Meta stated that the accounts were part of the largest known covert influence operation in the world and were engaged in spreading pro-Chinese communist and anti-U.S. propaganda.
Meta stated that the covert influence operation, dubbed “spamouflage,” was active on more than 50 platforms, including X (formerly known as Twitter), YouTube, TikTok, Reddit, Pinterest, Medium, Quora, and Vimeo.
“The network was run by geographically dispersed operators across China who appear to have been centrally provisioned with internet access and content directions,” the report reads.
“Taken together, we estimate Spamouflage to be the largest known cross-platform covert influence operation to date.”
Spamouflage also manufactured and attempted to distribute conspiracy theories apparently intended to undermine confidence in the United States and the rules-based international order. These included stories claiming that the United States started COVID-19 by shipping contaminated seafood to China, bombed the NordStream natural gas pipelines, and committed genocide.