How Chinese operatives use AI photos to sow discord among US voters, reveals Microsoft

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In an alarming revelation, Microsoft, the American multinational technology company, identified a surge in sophisticated, state-aligned influence and disinformation campaigns from China permeating multiple social media platforms.

The findings, published in a threat analysis report on Thursday, revealed that Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-affiliated covert operations have targeted US political candidates and adopted insidious personas of American voters, escalating the divide in the already polarized nation.

We have observed China-affiliated actors leveraging AI-generated visual media in a broad campaign that largely focuses on politically divisive topics, such as gun violence, and denigrating U.S. political figures and symbols. This technology produces more eye-catching content than the awkward digital drawings and stock photo collages used in previous campaigns. We can expect China to continue to hone this technology over time, though it remains to be seen how and when it will deploy it at scale.

Since March, China has significantly upgraded its disinformation arsenal, utilizing generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create headline content designed to go viral and widen divides among US voters, according to Microsoft analysts.

The Microsoft report, titled Digital threats from East Asia, brings to light the growing infiltration of Asian digital threats on American soil, particularly emphasizing Chinese influence campaigns. The report stated, “Covert influence operations have now begun to successfully engage with target audiences on social media to a greater extent than previously observed.”

An alarming observation highlighted in the report was China’s exploitation of generative AI to create visually engaging content that draws significant interaction from genuine users. This disconcerting pattern, as detailed in the report, began to surface around March.

While historically, Chinese influence campaigns have had limited success in penetrating their target audiences, predominantly US voters and residents, the trend noticeably began to turn in their favor since the 2022 midterm elections, Microsoft warned.

Notably, the findings have shed light on the increasing threat of foreign influence campaigns seeping into social media platforms, specifically X, formerly Twitter.

The infiltration has been widespread, with the disinformation content infiltrating multiple platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, Microsoft-owned LinkedIn, and X.

Microsoft, while commenting on the spread of this disinformation, presented screenshots of two different X posts from April, identified as perpetuating CCP-affiliated disinformation.

Both posts, centering on the Black Lives Matter movement, utilized the same graphic. One originated from an automated CCP-affiliated account, while the other was posted by an account impersonating a conservative US voter seven hours later.

In a separate report, Microsoft asserts that Russia exploits the internet to incite worldwide political instability.

The revelations prompted an alarming reminder of the concerning growth of disinformation campaigns. Let us know your thoughts on this.