The Chinese government has a team of policemen who create fake social accounts to harass dissidents and other critics abroad, according to US prosecutors.
The group, known as the “Special Project 912 Working Group″, has been particularly active in recent years, according to the US Department of Justice.
His activity, described in detailed court documents from US officials, involves instances such as an incident on September 15, 2021, when Marlon Pindosa Facebook user from the Philippines, posted a video with the caption Brag and cheat every day about an anonymous critic of the Chinese government who fled the country and now lives in New York City.
Other Facebook users soon chimed in. “It’s really disgusting,” Lacey Sutton wrote in Chinese. “Yes, he is a real liar,” Charlotte Gray commented, in English. Julie Torres from Madison, Wisconsin added: “Why isn’t he in jail? What is the government doing?
He trading between supposedly fake accounts is included in an extraordinarily detailed 89-page complaint and affidavit filed April 17 by federal prosecutors to support charges against 34 members of China’s Ministry of Public Security, China’s national police force, who were accused of participating in a conspiracy of the transnational crackdown that targeted US residents on social media.
The mission, according to US prosecutors, was to use fake accounts on Facebook from Meta Platforms, YouTube from Alphabet and Twitter to promote narratives favorable to the Chinese Communist Party, fanning social and political tensions in the United States, intimidating foreign enemies of the Chinese government, and undermining public critics of the regime who have sought refuge abroad.
When asked about the operations of Project 912, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang WenbinHe told a regular briefing that China has always respected the sovereignty of other countries.
“The label of transnational repression cannot be attached to China, and this is the manipulation of the facts by the United States and we strongly reject it,” he said. China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to a faxed request for comment.
Targets of the 912 Project’s alleged online harassment include one of the student leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and a virologist who fled China in 2020, according to the United States. Prosecutors do not identify the victims by name.
Victim 1 in the complaint matches the description of Guo Wengui, a billionaire businessman and persistent critic of the Chinese government. According to the complaint, members of the 912 Project monitored Guo’s social media accounts daily, including on holidays and weekends. A member of the project allegedly posted on Facebook 120 times about Guo.
Guo, who in March was arrested and charged with fraud by US prosecutors, could not be reached for comment.
Victim 14 is identified as a senior executive of a US social media company who closely resembled Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta. Prosecutors say a Twitter account, @ppcqCAMjyt5fXwV, harassed the executive with anti-Semitic tropes. The account was still active at the time of publication, with no followers and virtually no engagement in any of its posts, according to a review by Bloomberg.
The account, which posts mainly in Chinese, wrote about how the top executive lobbied against the Chinese social media app TikTok in Washington.
Meta did not respond to a request for comment.
After the choice of donald trump in the United States in 2016, cybersecurity researchers and government officials investigated the use of fake social media accounts by hostile foreign powers, including China and Russia, to stoke political divisions, though some critics question how influential were such tactics. It is unclear if Project 912 successfully shaped narratives or sowed discord, although some of the accounts that have not been banned by social media platforms appear to have very few followers and engagement.
“This activity closely resembles the influence operations we see conducted by pro-Chinese actors on a variety of online platforms,” said Jack Stubbs, vice president of intelligence at social media analytics firm Graphika. “Those operations are often spam and of low quality, but they can flood the information space with content that promotes the CCP and attempts to silence its critics.”
The charges against the 912 Project defendant were highlighted by his identification of Ministry of Public Security officials who were allegedly involved in directing and coordinating these farms, said Ja Ian Chong, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore. . The indictment and affidavit also include photographs of most of the defendants.
“The various directions that the task force attempts to shape the narrative indicate that in addition to trying to build support for the PRC and PRC positions, significant energy appears to be devoted to create confusion and division“, said. “They also seek to suppress negative messages about the PRC, including harassment of dissidents.”
According to US prosecutors, the disinformation campaign was carried out inside the offices of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, where dozens of officers engaged in a battle to defeat China’s enemies abroad, according to the complaint. His supplies included dozens of laptops, televisions and beds to accommodate occasions where continuous effort is required.
New members receive step-by-step instructions for creating and maintaining multiple social media accounts on a specific platform. In 2016, the project created a fake account for “Stacey Altman” of Sparks, Nev. The following year, “Susan Miller” of New York obtained an account, and in 2020, “Bill Giao” of Palo Alto, California, according to prosecutors.
The group’s leaders occasionally send a “task” to the group to sort out social media accounts on specific topics, according to court documents. In May 2022, for example, the team was tasked with taking advantage of the second anniversary of the death of George Floyd “to expose police brutality in the United States, racial discrimination and other social problems,” the complaint says. “Subsequently, an account controlled by the group made numerous posts about the death of George Floyd and accused US law enforcement institutions of racism,” prosecutors said.
In another example, Project 912 received an assignment around August 2021 related to the origins of covid-19: if “relevant parties” insist on following the theory of a lab leak, then virus labs should be investigated as well. of the US, according to the United States.
Project 912 also disrupted video conference calls by US-based dissidents and attacked his relatives in China, placing the father of one of them under house arrest, according to the complaint.
Members of the 912 Project saw their efforts as a way to fight for China’s adversaries, prosecutors said.
A meme that supposedly circulated within the group shows two images side by side. In the first, Chinese soldiers armed with weapons are depicted with the caption “how my grandfather fought for China”. In the second, a man in a T-shirt sits at a computer, a poster of Mao Zedong and a Chinese flag on the wall behind him.
“How I fought for China,” he says.
(With information from Bloomberg)
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