Pro-China influence campaign targeting US midterms: Report

Cybersecurity firm Mandiant says online influence operation aims to discourage US citizens from voting.

A pro-China online influence campaign is seeking to discredit American democracy ahead of the upcoming US midterm elections, according to a new report [File: Kacper Pempel/Reuters]

A pro-China online influence campaign is seeking to discredit the United States’ democracy and discourage citizens from voting in the upcoming midterm elections, according to cybersecurity researchers.

The influence campaign, dubbed DRAGONBRIDGE, aims to “sow division both between the US and its allies and within the US political system itself”, including by casting doubt on the effectiveness of voting, US cybersecurity firm Mandiant said in a report released on Wednesday.

Among other activities, the group has disseminated an English-language video that suggests voting is not “the solution to America’s ills”, US legislators are not productive and the legislative process has no meaningful effect on Americans’ lives, according to the report.

The influence operation, which involves the use of fake social media accounts as well as plagiarised and fabricated news articles, has also portrayed a Chinese hacking group as a US government-backed actor and claimed the US is responsible for the Nord Stream gas pipeline explosions, the Virginia-based cybersecurity firm said.

“Additionally, DRAGONBRIDGE posted content asserting that political infighting, partisanship, polarisation, and division had become fundamental aspects of American democracy,” the Virginia-based cybersecurity firm said.

“The campaign also pointed to frequent mentions of ‘civil war’ on social media and incidents of politically motivated violence, including confrontations between individuals supporting opposing parties and acts against the FBI, as evidence of the deterioration of the political process and its impending demise.

Such messaging is in line with, but seemingly a more aggressive form of, DRAGONBRIDGE’s previous criticisms of the US and attempts to sow discord and dissatisfaction within US society.”

While Mandiant did not attribute the campaign to a particular country, it said it assessed with “high confidence” that the campaign is being carried out in “support of the political interests of the People’s Republic of China”.

However, Mandiant, which was acquired by Google in a $5.4bn deal last month, said the effect of the campaign has been “limited”, although it continues to spend “significant resources to pursue and sustain multiple operations simultaneously”.

The report comes after Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, last month announced it had shut down a pair of China and Russia-based influence operations aimed at influencing public opinion on US elections and the war in Ukraine.

In August, internet researchers at Stanford University said Facebook, Instagram and Twitter had removed a number of accounts involved in a pro-US covert influence campaign aimed at shaping opinion in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Source: Al Jazeera