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Facebook says China trolls ‘evolving’ in push for influence

by Agence France Presse

SYDNEY, Australia– Networks of fake Facebook accounts run from China are “evolving” and adopting new tactics in their quest to sow discord overseas, the social media platform told Australian lawmakers Tuesday.

Fronting a Senate inquiry into foreign interference, officials from parent company Meta said there had been a noticeable “shift in tactics” by China-based networks over the past seven months.

Meta spokesman Josh Machin said coordinated networks of Chinese Facebook accounts were increasingly trying to influence public opinion by targeting journalists, charities and public relations firms.

“We are seeing a whole new range of tactics evolving,” Machin told the inquiry.

Meta recently removed dozens of Facebook accounts belonging to a China-based network waging a coordinated disinformation campaign in Europe.

The network had been sharing incendiary content attacking migrants and LGBTQ activists.

It had also set up a front media company, hired freelance writers and attempted to recruit protesters, Meta said in May.

Lawmakers have been grilling social media companies as Australia steps up efforts to detect and eliminate foreign interference threats such as election meddling.

The government has said spying and foreign interference is the “principal security concern facing Australia”.

Australia will hold a historic referendum on Indigenous rights this year, and there are fears foreign actors may use social media to inflame racial divisions within the country.

Meta’s policy director for Australia and New Zealand, Mia Garlick, said the platform would be rolling out a suite of measures to combat misinformation in the lead-up to the referendum.

“We’ve developed a comprehensive strategy in consultation with First Nations communities to combat misinformation and voter interference as well as other forms of abuse that could occur on our platform,” she told the inquiry.

Australia has been at the forefront of efforts to regulate digital platforms, and has adopted measures to force them to take down violent videos and hand over identities of online trolls.

The government recently proposed new laws that could result in tech giants being slapped with hefty fines if they fail to tackle disinformation.

Under the draft legislation, the owners of platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter and TikTok would face penalties worth up to five percent of annual global turnover — some of the highest proposed anywhere in the world.



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