Noting that researchers discovered 85 China-based blogs and accounts spreading a conspiracy theory that a US “meteorological weapon” was to blame for recent fires in Hawaii, political observers in Taiwan warned that the country must also be wary of Beijing using similar disinformation campaigns against Taiwan.
Conspiracy Theory About Hawaii Fires Were Created in Different Languages
The false content about Hawaii was created in 15 languages and spread over multiple platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, and X, according to a Gizmodo investigation quoting NewsGuard, an online news content ranker. According to Gizmodo, the endeavor marked the most extensive Chinese disinformation operation discovered by NewsGuard to date. According to the report, the conspiracy theory includes the British MI6, a rumored US defector, and the ability to influence wildfires, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions.
According to NewsGuard, the phony story first emerged on a Chinese platform named 163.com in early August before being circulated on global platforms via sock puppet accounts, and the posts appear to have used bots to create comments, responses, and shares. Though researchers cannot establish that the accounts were coordinated by Beijing, the weather weapon rumors originated in Chinese-language accounts and platforms before spreading to other languages, according to Gizmodo.
Accounts Used in Spreading the Conspiracy Theory were Newly Created
According to Gizmodo, the accounts related to the phony post were newly created, and many showed little or no activity beyond promoting stories that coincided with Beijing’s goals.
In response, Meta Platforms Inc. told Gizmodo that its experts had identified the accounts as part of Spamouflage, a Chinese-based disinformation effort. According to Meta, the operation began in 2019 and was linked to the propagation of another batch of phony stories disclosed in Meta’s Q2 Adversarial Threat Report.
In Taiwan, the National Security Bureau reported to the Legislative Yuan in April that Beijing is anticipated to ramp up its disinformation campaign targeting Taiwan to sway voters ahead of the country’s general elections next year. An anonymous source with knowledge of the situation claimed that China’s use of algorithms in propaganda would certainly rise in the future, making it more difficult for consumers to identify phony news from true ones.
They emphasized that being wary of provocative headlines and confirming news before sharing them is critical in deterring foreign involvement in Taiwan’s politics and public opinion.