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Why China is so bad at disinformation

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Why China is so bad at disinformation

The headlines sounded dire. “China will use artificial intelligence to disrupt elections in the United States, South Korea and India, warns Microsoft,” reads a text. “China is using AI to sow disinformation and stoke discord in Asia and the United States,” said another.

The headlines were based on a report published earlier this month by Microsoft Threat Analysis Center which described how a Chinese disinformation campaign was using artificial technology to inflame divisions and disrupt elections in the US and around the world. The campaign, which has already focused on Taiwan’s elections, uses AI-generated audio and memes designed to capture users’ attention and drive participation.

But what these headlines and Microsoft itself failed to adequately convey is that the Chinese government-linked disinformation campaign, known as spam dragon either dragon bridgeuntil now it has been practically ineffective.

“I would describe China’s disinformation campaigns as Russia 2014. I mean, they’re 10 years behind,” says Clint Watts, general manager of Microsoft’s Threat Analysis Center. “They are trying a lot of different things, but their sophistication is still very weak.”

Over the past 24 months, the campaign has gone from pushing predominantly pro-China content to more Aggressively targeting American politics.. While these efforts have been on a large scale and across dozens of platforms, they have largely failed to have any real-world impact. Still, experts warn that it may take a single post amplified by an influential account to change all that.

“Spamouflage is like throwing spaghetti at the wall, and they’re throwing a lot of spaghetti,” says Jack Stubbs, chief information officer at Graphika, a social media analytics company that was among the first to identify the Spamouflage campaign. “The volume and scale of this is enormous. They publish multiple videos and cartoons every day, amplified on different platforms on a global scale. The vast majority, at the moment, seems to be something that is not maintained, but that does not mean that it will not be maintained in the future.”

Since at least 2017, Spamouflage has been relentlessly spewing content designed to disrupt major global events, including topics as diverse as the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the US presidential election, and the war between Israel and Hamas. part of a Broader multi-million dollar influence campaign On the Chinese government’s part, the campaign has used millions of accounts on dozens of internet platforms ranging from X and YouTube to more fringe platforms like Gab, where the campaign has been trying to push pro-China content. He has also been one of the first to adopt cutting-edge techniques such as AI generated profile images.

Even with all these investments, experts say the campaign has largely failed due to a number of factors including cultural context issues, China’s online separation from the outside world through the Great Firewall, a lack of joined-up thinking between state media and the disinformation campaign and the use of tactics designed for China’s heavily controlled online environment.

“That’s been the story of Spamouflage since 2017: They’re huge, they’re everywhere, and no one is looking at them except researchers,” says Elise Thomas, a senior open source analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue who has followed Spamouflage. campaign for years.

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