Global Affairs Canada says a social media campaign that is likely connected to the People’s Republic of China is targeting dozens of MPs with spam.
The department said a bot network began a campaign known as “Spamouflage” to spread propaganda and disinformation messages across Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter, in early August. The campaign accelerated in scale over the September long weekend.
Global Affairs said the bot network left thousands of comments in English and French on the accounts of MPs claiming a critic of the Chinese Communist Party in Canada had accused the various MPs of criminal and ethical violations.
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It said the messages appeared across the political spectrum, including on the accounts of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre and several members of cabinet.
The “Spamouflage” campaign also included the use of what are likely deepfake videos, which are digitally modified by artificial intelligence, targeting the individuals.
The department said all MPs have been made aware of the campaign and have been given advice about how to protect themselves from foreign interference.
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“It has also been made clear to them that nothing observed in this activity represents a threat to their safety, or that of their family,” Global Affairs said in a statement Monday.
The department’s Rapid Response Mechanism Canada, which monitors for foreign state-sponsored digital disinformation and provides data about threats to democracy, has assessed the goal of the operation.
The agency said it likely seeks to discredit and denigrate the targeted MPs, through seemingly organic posts alleging impropriety, with waves of social media posts and videos that call into question their political and ethical standards using a popular Chinese-speaking figure in Canada.
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It also likely seeks to silence criticism of the Chinese Communist Party by getting MPs to distance themselves from the critic and discouraging others from engaging with them.
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“Democracies rely on access to diverse and reliable sources of news and information. Disinformation undermines free speech, hinders open public debate and erodes trust in democracy,” Global Affairs said in a statement.
“The Government of Canada will continue to uphold the strength and resilience of our democratic institutions by monitoring the information environment and shining light on threats against democracy.”
Spamouflage combines the words “spam” and “camouflage,” and is a tactic intended to portray the hidden attempts to spread spam-like content and propaganda among more everyday, human-interest style content.
This bot network is made of new or hijacked social media accounts that posts propaganda messages across multiple social media platforms including Facebook, X, Instagram, YouTube, Medium, Reddit, TikTok and LinkedIn.
Spamouflage networks are largely contained within their own echo chambers of fake users and rarely garner organic social media engagement from real users, Global Affairs said.
The same bot networks spread disinformation claiming that the Hawaiian wildfires were caused by a secret U.S. military “weather weapon,” and have been connected to disinformation about Japan’s Fukushima water release in August.
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