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COVID19-Disinformation_20200804

Covid-19 Disinformation & Social Media Manipulation

A range of actors are manipulating the information environment to exploit the COVID-19 crisis for strategic gain. ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre is tracking many of these state and non-state actors online, and will occasionally publish investigative, data-driven reporting that will focus on the use of disinformation, propaganda, extremist narratives and conspiracy theories by these actors.

The bulk of ASPI’s data analysis uses our in-house Influence Tracker tool - a machine learning and data analytics capability that draws out insights from multi-language social media datasets. This new tool can ingest data in multiple languages and auto-translate, producing insights on topics, sentiment, shared content, influential accounts, metrics of impact and posting patterns.

The reports are listed in chronological order:

 

#5 Automating influence operations on Covid-19: Chinese speaking actors targeting US audiences

Automating influence on Covid-19 looks at how Chinese-speaking actors are attempting to target US-based audiences on Facebook and Twitter across key narratives including amplifying criticisms of the US’s handling of Covid-19, emphasising racial divisions, and political and personal scandals linked to President Donald Trump.

This new report investigates a campaign of cross-platform inauthentic activity that relies on a high-degree of automation and is broadly in alignment with the political goal of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to denigrate the standing of the US. The campaign appears to be targeted primarily at Western and US-based audiences by artificially boosting legitimate media and social media content in order to amplify divisive or negative narratives about the US.

04 Aug 2020

#4 ID2020, Bill Gates and the Mark of the Beast: how Covid-19 catalyses existing online conspiracy movements

Against the backdrop of the global Covid-19 pandemic, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has become the subject of a diverse and rapidly expanding universe of conspiracy theories. This report takes a close look at a particular variant of the Gates conspiracy theories, which is referred to here as the ID2020 conspiracy (named after the non-profit ID2020 Alliance, which the conspiracy theorists claim has a role in the narrative), as a case study for examining the dynamics of online conspiracy theories on Covid-19. Like many conspiracy theories, that narrative builds on legitimate concerns, in this case about privacy and surveillance in the context of digital identity systems, and distorts them in extreme and unfounded ways. Among the many conspiracy theories now surrounding Gates, this one is particularly worthy of attention because it highlights the way emergent events catalyse existing online conspiracy substrates. In times of crisis, these digital structures—the online communities, the content, the shaping of recommendation algorithms—serve to channel anxious, uncertain individuals towards conspiratorial beliefs. This report focuses primarily on the role and use of those digital structures in proliferating the ID2020 conspiracy.

25 June 2020

#3 Retweeting through the Great Firewall: A persistent and undeterred threat actor

This report analyses a persistent, large-scale influence campaign linked to Chinese state actors on Twitter and Facebook.

This activity largely targeted Chinese-speaking audiences outside of the Chinese mainland (where Twitter is blocked) with the intention of influencing perceptions on key issues, including the Hong Kong protests, exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and, to a lesser extent Covid-19 and Taiwan. Extrapolating from the takedown dataset, to which we had advanced access, given to us by Twitter, we have identified that this operation continues and has pivoted to try to weaponise the US Government’s response to current domestic protests and create the perception of a moral equivalence with the suppression of protests in Hong Kong.

11 June 2020

#2. Covid-19 attracts patriotic troll campaigns in support of China’s geopolitical interests

This new research highlights the growing significance and impact of Chinese non-state actors on western social media platforms. Across March and April 2020, this loosely coordinated pro-China trolling campaign on Twitter has:

  • Harassed and mimicked western media outlets
  • Impersonated Taiwanese users in an effort to undermine Taiwan’s position with the World Health Organisation (WHO
  • Spread false information about the Covid-19 outbreak
  • Joined in pre-existing inauthentic social media campaigns

23 April 2020

#1. Covid-19 disinformation and social media manipulation trends

Includes case studies on:

  • Chinese state-sponsored messaging on Twitter
  • Coordinated anti-Taiwan trolling: WHO & #saysrytoTedros
  • Russian Covid-19 disinformation in Africa

8-15 April 2020