A pro-China network of fake and impostor accounts found a global audience on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to mock the US response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a deadly riot in Washington that left five dead, research published on Thursday found.
Messages posted by the network, which also praised China, reached the social media feeds of government officials, including some in China and Venezuela who retweeted posts from the fake accounts to millions of their followers.
The international reach marked new territory for a pro-China social media network that has been operating for years, said Ben Nimmo, head of investigations at Graphika, the social media analysis firm that monitored the activity.
“For the very first time, it started to get a little bit of audience interaction,” Nimmo said.
The network’s messaging aligns closely with posts and comments made by Chinese government officials.
However, it is unclear who is behind the fake accounts, which posted more than 1,400 videos in English, Mandarin and Cantonese, Nimmo said.
One of the Twitter accounts, which had a following of about 2,000 users mostly from Latin America, also tweeted the messaging in Spanish.
The posts appear to target social media users outside of the US, gaining traction in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Venezuela — where Chinese and US interests have increasingly come into conflict.
“The overall message is: America is doing very badly. China is doing very well,” Nimmo said. “Who do you want to be like?”
The network used photos of Chinese celebrities on the accounts and, in one case, hijacked the verified Twitter account of a Latin American soap opera show to post messages, the Graphika report showed.
The accounts seized on the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington as the US Congress met to certify the US election results at the US Capitol.
One video described the US as a “failed state” and another said that it was “running naked in front of the world” in the wake of the Capitol siege.
Three videos described the riot as a “beautiful sight to behold,” mimicking the language used in Chinese state media reports on the riot, the report found.
Relations between Washington and Beijing worsened under former US president Donald Trump, who launched an aggressive diplomatic and economic offensive against China.
That tension has played out on social media, where Chinese officials in the past few years aired pointed criticisms of Trump.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) has been one of the most vocal critics of the US on social media, spreading a conspiracy theory on Twitter last year that COVID-19 began in the US, despite evidence that the virus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
However, even after Trump’s exit from office on Jan. 20, the network has continued to push anti-US posts.
Some of the accounts have now pivoted to attacking the Democratic Party by accusing leaders of having a “one-party mentality” in videos posted to YouTube, the report found.
Other fake accounts have questioned the safety of US-approved COVID-19 vaccines, despite studies on tens of thousands of people that found no serious side effects.
“The safety of the ... vaccine was in doubt, but it was quickly approved,” one of the pro-China videos posted on Jan. 21 claimed in a headline.
Other posts praised China’s response to the pandemic, while criticizing the US’ ability to contain the virus.
“There’s this cherry-picking of narratives and events that make the US look really bad,” Nimmo said.
Last month, YouTube said that it in December last year removed more than 3,000 YouTube channels that were identified as part of Graphika’s investigation into influence campaigns linked to China.
Three years after a deadly virus struck India’s endangered Asiatic lions in their last remaining natural habitat, conservationists are hunting for new homes to help booming prides roam free. The majestic big cats, slightly smaller than their African cousins and with a fold of skin along their bellies, were once found widely across southwest Asia. Hunting and human encroachment saw the population plunge to just 20 by 1913, and the lions are now found only in a wildlife sanctuary in India’s western Gujarat State. Following years of concerted government efforts, the lion population in Gir National Park has swelled to nearly 700, according
A rogue overgrown sheep found roaming through regional Australia has been shorn of his 35kg fleece — a weight even greater than that of the famous New Zealand sheep Shrek, who was captured in 2005 after six years on the loose. The merino ram, dubbed Baarack by rescuers, was discovered wandering alone with an extraordinarily overgrown wool coat, and was promptly shorn to save his life. Kyle Behrend, from the Edgar’s Mission farm sanctuary, said that it appeared Baarack was “once an owned sheep” who had escaped. Merino sheep do not shed their fleece and need to be shorn at least annually, as
‘GRAVE CONCERN’: A critic of the government died immediately following his complaints of torture at the hands of security forces, a human rights group said Students on Friday clashed with police in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, as anger mounted at the death of a writer and government critic in a high-security jail. At least 18 police and an unknown number of protesters were injured in the clashes, authorities and witnesses said, amid international demands for an independent investigation into the death of Mushtaq Ahmed. An Agence France-Presse correspondent witnessed police using batons and firing tear gas at students who staged a torchlight march calling for “justice” near the University of Dhaka. At least six students who allegedly attacked security forces with torches were detained, police said. More protests were planned
DMZ SWIM: Over more than three hours, South Korean surveillance cameras caught him eight times and audible alarms sounded twice, but border guards did not notice A North Korean defector wore a diving suit and fins during a daring six-hour swim around one of the world’s most fortified borders and was only caught after apparently falling asleep, a Seoul official said. South Korean forces did not spot the man’s audacious exploit, despite his appearance several times on surveillance cameras after he landed and triggered alarms, drawing heavy criticism from media and opposition lawmakers. Even after his presence was noticed, the man — who used diving gear to make his way by sea around the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the Korean Peninsula — was not caught for another