China behind fake accounts polling US voters on domestic political issues: Microsoft

A logo of Microsoft is displayed.

Kin Cheung, Associated Press file

A logo of Microsoft is displayed during an event at the Chatham House think tank in London Jan. 15, 2024.

The Chinese government appears to be operating fake social media accounts impersonating U.S. voters and polling followers about their views on domestic political issues, according to a new report from Microsoft. 

“The Microsoft Threat Analysis Center (MTAC) has observed a small yet steady increase of additional sockpuppet accounts that we assess with moderate confidence are run by the [Chinese Communist Party],” Microsoft wrote.

The accounts “nearly exclusively” post about U.S. domestic issues — such as drug use, immigration policy and racial tensions — and often ask followers if they agree, according to the report.

“This tactic may be for the purpose of seeking further engagement, or possibly to gain insight into how Americans’ views on US politics,” Microsoft said. “More such accounts could be operating to increase intelligence gathering around key voting demographics within the United States.”

In one instance, an account posted about a Senate proposal that sought to pair border funding with aid to Ukraine and Israel and asked followers, “What’s your reaction?” Another post criticized the Biden administration over a missing F-35 jet and asked, “What do you think about this?”

Actors linked to Chinese influence operations are also increasingly using generative artificial intelligence (AI) to produce “sleek, engaging visual content” targeting the U.S., Microsoft said. 

Amid wildfires in Maui last August, one such actor spread conspiratorial content alleging that the U.S. government deliberately set the fires to test a military-grade weather weapon.

It used “AI-generated images of burning coastal roads and residences to make the content more eye-catching,” according to the report.

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