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Meta removes 500 Facebook accounts linked to Chinese disinformation network

Facebook and Instagram parent company, Meta Platforms, has removed over 500 accounts linked to an online disinformation network primarily based in China.

user iconReporter
Fri, 03 Dec 2021
Meta removes 500 Facebook accounts linked to Chinese disinformation network
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Meta Platforms' November report has revealed its investigation to an account posing as a Swiss biologist called Wilson Edwards is "linked to individuals in mainland China, including employees of Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co Ltd ... and individuals associated with Chinese state infrastructure companies based around the world".

Sichuan Silence Information's website describes the company as a network and information security company that provides technical support to China's Ministry of Public Security and CNCERT, the key team that coordinates China's cyber security emergency response.

In July, the claims of a fake Swiss biologist called "Wilson Edwards", who alleged the US was meddling in efforts to find the origins of COVID-19 were widely circulated online.

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The fake Swiss biologist account made statements on Facebook and Twitter that the United States was applying pressure on the World Health Organisation scientists who were studying the origins of Covid-19 in an attempt to blame the virus on China.

The original post from the fake expert was initially shared and liked by other fake Facebook accounts, and later forwarded by authentic users, most of which belonged to employees of Chinese state infrastructure companies in over 20 countries, according to Meta's investigation findings.

The comments had been widely carried by Chinese state media outlets too, including CGTN, Shanghai Daily and Global Times, citing the so-called biologist based on his Facebook profile.

In August, the Swiss embassy shut down the online account's legitimacy, stating that the person likely did not exist, as the Facebook account was opened only two weeks prior to its first post and only had three friends.

The embassy added "there was no registry of a Swiss citizen with the name 'Wilson Edwards', no academic articles under the name", and urged Chinese media outlets to take down any mention of him, concluding that it was unlikely this person existed.

After reviewing public reports that centred around the fake Swiss biologist, Meta removed a total of 524 Facebook accounts, 20 pages, four groups and 86 Instagram accounts.

According to Meta's report, the social media campaign targeted English-speaking audiences in the United States, Britain and Chinese-speaking audiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet but ultimately, the campaign was "largely unsuccessful".

The operation used Virtual Personal Network (VPN) infrastructure to conceal its origin, and Meta also found the profile photo used by the fake Swiss expert account appeared to have been generated using machine-learning capabilities.

The investigation into the origins of COVID-19 have been a source of tension between the US, China and other countries, as the source of the virus remains murky almost two years after it was first discovered.

[Related: Security breaches to hit 1 in 3 critical infrastructure firms]

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