Technology

China-based network tried to influence midterms, but long lunches and 9-to-5 hours hampered efforts

Meta has taken down a Chinese influence operation focused on US domestic politics ahead of the midterm elections that ran across several social media platforms. But the network’s efforts weren’t very successful for several reasons: those involved worked 9 to 5 (China time), took long lunch breaks, and didn’t do much over the weekends.

Meta writes that it took down the “small” network, which originated in China, for violating its policy on inauthentic behavior. Covering Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, it’s the first known propaganda campaign originating in China to target US audiences ahead of November’s midterms.

It appears that voters aren’t going to be influenced by the propaganda. Two of the memes featuring Joe Biden and Senator Marco Rubio received one engagement each, the Facebook Pages had only a handful of followers, and almost nobody shared the hashtags.

Meta writes that the lack of success was down to several factors. The workers infrequently posted to a small number of accounts and kept them running for just a few weeks. There were also translation problems resulting in strangely worded phrases such as “I can’t live in an America on regression!”.

The posters were also working on a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday schedule in China, which is 12 hours ahead of Florida time. They took extended lunch breaks and rarely posted on weekends. All of this meant the content went out when most Americans were asleep.

The issues covered hot-button topics such as gun and abortion rights, Hong Kong democracy, and allegations of US bioweapon factories in Ukraine. There were also criticisms of Democratic and Republican politicians. One meme showed President Biden with the text, “One year in: Nothing is built, nothing is back, nothing is better.” The one with Senator Ruben read, “$1.3 million from Russia, $3.3 million from NRA, Democracy for sale.”

“The Chinese operations we’ve taken down before talked primarily about America to the world, primarily in South Asia, not to Americans about themselves,” Meta global threat intelligence lead Ben Nimmo told a press briefing (via Reuters). “Essentially, the message was ‘America bad, China good.'”

Twitter said it has also taken down the accounts.

Meta took down a Russia-based disinformation network, too. It primarily targeted Germany, along with France, Italy, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom, with issues relating to the Ukraine war. It included 60 websites impersonating legitimate news sites. Meta said it was the largest and most complex Russian-origin operation it had disrupted since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.