Facebook deleted fake Swiss science account as part of international disinformation campaign

Buried deep in Facebook’s November report on Coordinated inauthentic behavior is an international intrigue story that feels more like a Netflix drama than an attempted disinformation campaign (although the way Netflix exploits social media in search of ideas these days, maybe stay tuned). ‘listen). On July 24, a Swiss biologist named Wilson Edwards claimed on Facebook and Twitter that the United States was pressuring World Health Organization (WHO) scientists studying the origins of COVID-19.

His claims spread quickly on social media, as such claims usually do, and within a week the World time and People’s Daily, two state-run Chinese media outlets, denounced Wilson Edwards’ claims as “intimidation” by the United States. Wilson Edwards created his Facebook account two days later China refused to agree to a plan by WHO for a second phase study into the origins of the coronavirus.

Have you already guessed the turn of the plot? It turns out, according to the Swiss Embassy in Beijing, that there is no Swiss citizen by the name of Wilson Edwards. “If you exist, we would love to meet you! But it is more likely to be fake news, and we call on the Chinese press and internet users to remove the messages ”, the embassy tweeted from its official account on August 10.

Facebook investigated and deleted the Wilson Edwards account the same day the Swiss Embassy tweeted. Ben Nimmo, global head of IO threat intelligence (great title for our drama) at Meta, Facebook’s parent company, writes that the Wilson Edwards account was part of a disinformation campaign that originated in China.

Fake profile photo from one of the fake accounts Meta says they liked about “Wilson Edwards” post
Photo: Meta

“Essentially, this campaign was a hall of mirrors, endlessly reflecting a single false character,” explains Nimmo. The Meta investigation found that nearly all of Wilson Edwards’ original Facebook story broadcast was inauthentic: “the work of a largely unsuccessful, multi-pronged influence operation,” which brought together hundreds of fake accounts as well as genuine accounts belonging to employees of “Chinese state infrastructure companies on four continents”.

According to Meta, only a handful of actual people have engaged with Wilson Edwards, despite the 524 Facebook accounts, 20 Facebook pages, four Facebook groups, and 86 Instagram accounts the company deleted as part of its investigation. The crooks spent less than $ 5,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads as part of the campaign and used VPNs to cover up the origins of the accounts.

“This matches what we’ve seen in our research on covert influence operations over the past four years: we haven’t seen any successful OI campaigns based on false engagement tactics,” says Nimmo . “Unlike the elaborate fictional characters who strive to create authentic communities to influence them, the content enjoyed by these rude fake accounts would generally only be seen by their ‘fake friends’.” (And we all know what happens to fake friends.)

The group of fake accounts that Meta has connected to the Wilson Edwards program, as well as some people associated with the information security firm Silence in China, have apparently (unsuccessfully, according to Meta) made further attempts to influence people. operations that were “generally small-scale and of negligible impact.”

It’s not the most exciting ending in our history, but at least Wilson Edwards won’t try to cheat other international health organizations. Now if we could just find somebody to hold back the stubborn people who keep call about the car warranty I didn’t know I had …

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