Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is warning about the growing threat of disinformation and interference in 2024 ahead of key elections such as the presidential elections in the United States. The attacks, with the support of artificial intelligence, are expected to continue to come from China, Iran, and Russia. As a preemptive measure, in December, Meta deleted 4,789 Facebook accounts in China, targeting the United States.
The fake accounts used photos and names copied from the internet to comment on networks and initiate friendships with accounts in other parts of the world “posing as Americans,” said Meta’s November 30 Adversarial Threat Report.
“There are several methods that China, Russia, and Iran use in tandem to undermine democracy in the world. One of them is computer warfare,” Douglas Farah, president of IBI Consultants, a U.S. firm that monitors political and security developments in the hemisphere, told Diálogo on January 4. “This concept is in Russian and Chinese military doctrine explicitly; it encompasses both disinformation and cyberwarfare efforts.”
“The deleted accounts were making posts on multiple platforms, but Meta shut down the network before it could get authentic communities to engage with our apps,” Forbes magazine reported. Meta added that it is unclear whether the goal was to create partisan tensions, build audiences among supporters of these politicians, make fake accounts sharing authentic content appear more genuine, or all of the above.
Facebook’s parent company also shut down two other smaller networks: one of Chinese origin with 13 fake accounts and seven groups targeting India and Tibet, posing as journalists and activists, and a Russian network that had six Facebook accounts, one page, and three Instagram accounts targeting English-speaking audiences worldwide.
“Russia continues to be the most prolific geographic source of inauthentic coordinated behavior, following the path of the past several years and especially since its invasion of Ukraine, with the primary goal of eroding international support for the neighboring country,” Meta said in the report. “While China is a growing source of covert influence and disinformation campaigns, which could be augmented by advances in artificial intelligence.”
“What we are seeing today is a strong push from China and Russia — but especially Russia — to run troll farms with the ability to flood any location with disinformation and fake news,” Farah said. “They are especially focused on denying that traditional liberal democracy is a successful model in the world.”
“Russia remains the largest source of what Meta calls coordinated campaigns of ‘inauthentic behavior’ on social media, with efforts focused on swaying public opinion about the Russian war in Ukraine,” Forbes reported. However, China’s influence in polarization and disinformation campaigns is also growing, Meta noted.
In August 2023, Meta deleted some 7,500 Facebook accounts linked to Chinese influence groups that promoted propagandistic content through a network called Spamouflage, which targeted users around the globe, communications platform Campaign Asia reported. The aim of the network was to spread positive comments about China, criticize U.S. and Western foreign policies, and attack critics of the Chinese regime, including journalists and researchers.
“But what China, Iran, and Russia want in our region is to undermine the concept of democracy and favor the Bolivarian model,” Farah said. “That involves dismantling traditional structures that the U.S. has supported since the Cold War, ranging from representative democracy to clean elections, among others.”
Those efforts by global powers have their correlation with the actions of Latin American dictatorships.
“If you notice, all the dictatorships in Latin America like Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, they cut off all access to information that should be public, such as military budgets and U.S. aid,” Farah said. “The goal is to be able to increase corruption.”
In November 2023, the U.S. State Department warned that Moscow is funding a disinformation campaign in Latin America, taking advantage of contacts made with media outlets in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, among other countries, to promote a campaign of information manipulation.
The ultimate goal is to launder their propaganda and disinformation efforts through local media in a way that feels organic to local audiences, to undermine support for Ukraine, and spread an anti-U.S. and NATO mindset, the U.S. Department reported.
“Russia pushes the message throughout the region that they are under attack from the United States and NATO, and that justifies Russia’s much stronger positioning in the Western Hemisphere, with projection from Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Argentina,” Farah said. “Russia says, ‘Well, if the U.S. and NATO is on our borders, in our backyard, we have a strategic need to be in theirs.’”
In Nicaragua, the Daniel Ortega-Rosario Murillo regime and Russia signed a collaboration agreement in 2022 to strengthen the dissemination of information of the Nicaraguan regime to “prevent, detect, investigate the incorrect, abusive, and criminal use of Information and Communication Technologies,” Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said. This agreement contemplates the training of Nicaraguan journalists in propaganda techniques that benefit the regime.
Latin America is also the focus of Iran’s propaganda and disinformation efforts. The Persian nation founded Hispan TV in 2012, deploying its efforts to Spanish-speaking countries around the world. Hispan TV broadcasts its content through various platforms, from satellite and cable retransmissions to live broadcasts, as well as through its web platforms and social networks, the think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies indicated.
“With the technology that exists today, it is very easy to set up a media outlet, control an algorithm, and launch messages wherever,” Farah concluded. “We must instead think about how we manage to empower media that are legitimate and whose news is verifiable.”