China’s Covert Campaign: Fake Trump Supporters Wreak Havoc on U.S. Election Landscape

Watertown NY 04.01.2024 Written by Hans Wilder

In a recent development, covert Chinese accounts have been discovered on various online platforms, impersonating American supporters of former President Donald J. Trump. These accounts are actively promoting conspiracy theories, stoking domestic divisions, and attacking President Biden in the lead-up to the November election. This shift in China’s tactics signals a potential change in how Beijing aims to influence American politics, with a newfound willingness to target specific candidates and parties, including President Biden.

Researchers and government officials have uncovered a small group of fake accounts posing as Trump supporters, with some even claiming to be “a father, husband, and son” who is “MAGA all the way!!” These accounts mock President Biden’s age and share fake images of him in a prison jumpsuit, while also promoting Mr. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

The accounts are part of a long-running network known as Spamouflage, which has previously posted pro-Beijing content in Mandarin but has now resurfaced under the guise of real Americans writing in English. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies has also identified 170 inauthentic pages and accounts on Facebook that have pushed anti-American messages, including pointed attacks on Mr. Biden.

These efforts have raised concerns within the American government, as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reported that China is expanding its influence campaigns to “sow doubts about U.S. leadership, undermine democracy, and extend Beijing’s influence.” The report expressed concern that Beijing could use increasingly sophisticated methods to try to influence the American election “to sideline critics of China.”

The new Chinese efforts to influence American politics have become more difficult to identify and have attracted more genuine engagement from users, raising the possibility that China’s government may view a second Trump presidency as preferable to a second Biden term.

In the face of these developments, online disinformation experts are increasingly concerned about the months leading up to the November election, especially considering Russia’s use of increasingly subtle influence tactics and the waning moderation efforts at social media platforms.

China’s efforts to advance its ideology in the West have struggled to gain traction in the past, but recent campaigns have sought to exploit the divisions already apparent in American politics, joining the divisive debate over issues such as gay rights, immigration, and crime.

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue has identified several Chinese-linked accounts on X that have shared false narratives and conspiracy theories, including one account that paid for a subscription on X and used phrases like “how dare?” instead of “how dare you?” and signs that the user’s web browser had been set to Mandarin.

These accounts have also been linked to China’s influence campaign Spamouflage, which was first identified in 2019 and has since pivoted to focus on the United States, portraying the country as overwhelmed by chaos.

The growing sophistication of China’s efforts to influence American politics, coupled with the persistence of these campaigns despite Meta’s repeated attempts to remove Spamouflage accounts, underscores the need for increased vigilance and awareness among social media users and the broader public.

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