A pro-China digital influence campaign that aimed to get Asian Americans angry over reports of racial injustice has been uncovered by researchers at a cybersecurity firm, The Washington Times is reporting.
The large-scale operation also attempted to shift blame for the origins of COVID-19 on to the U.S., the newspaper said. It was discovered by the Mandiant division of the cybersecurity firm FireEye. The Times reported the campaign used about 30 social media platforms and dozens of websites in several languages, including Chinese, English, Russian, German, Spanish, Korean, and Japanese.
"This suggests that the actors behind the campaign have significantly expanded their online footprint and appear to be attempting to establish a presence on as many platforms as possible to reach a variety of global audiences," the company said in a blog post.
"Second, the attempt to physically mobilize protesters in the U.S. provides early warning that the actors responsible may be starting to explore more direct means of influence and may be indicative of an emerging intent to motivate real-world activity outside of China’s territories."
The Times said the firm did not identify the Chinese Communist Party as the force behind the campaign. However, the outlet said the researchers linked the campaign to China-based accounts that Twitter removed in 2019.
Researchers noted that in April 2021 there were thousands of posts, across numerous platforms that called on Asian Americans to protest racial injustice in the U.S.
"We have not observed any evidence to suggest that these calls were successful in mobilizing protesters on April 24," the company said. "However, it does provide early warning that the actors behind the activity may be starting to explore, in however limited a fashion, more direct means of influencing the domestic affairs of the U.S. We believe it is important to call attention to such attempts and for observers to continue to monitor for such attempts in future."
The company also noted: "We observed German and Spanish-language content on LiveJournal and the Argentine social media site Taringa that also attempted to cast doubt about the origins of COVID-19. Posts in German on LiveJournal cited unconfirmed studies to claim that COVID-19 may have appeared in the U.S. before January 2020, while posts in Spanish on Taringa claimed that U.S. Ft. Detrick was the source of COVID-19 and linked to third-party articles that claimed that the virus appeared in the U.S. and Europe before China."
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