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A new report from Microsoft’s Threat Analysis Center has revealed that entities affiliated with China are using deceptive social media accounts to gather information on U.S. opinion on divisive issues. These accounts have been posting about political issues and using AI-generated content to try and sway public opinion, with a focus on understanding voter demographics ahead of the 2024 presidential election. However, Microsoft notes that their success in influencing public opinion has been limited so far.

The analysis found that China’s priorities and targets remain the same, with a focus on launching influence operations in the South Pacific Islands, the South China Sea region, and the U.S. defense industrial base. However, the latest trends in their tactics involve impersonating U.S. voters and posting about divisive U.S. political issues, including polling questions to gauge public opinion.

Chinese influence operations have also been using artificial intelligence to sow political divisions in the U.S. and elsewhere. The network known as Storm-1376, ramped up AI operations during the Taiwanese presidential election to promote misleading AI-generated audio clips and memes. In the U.S., they attempted to spread misinformation on various issues, although Microsoft found little evidence that these efforts were successful in swaying public opinion.

The report also highlighted concerns about North Korea’s cyber activities, noting that the country has continued its efforts to steal cryptocurrency to fund its weapons program. North Korean cyber attackers have stolen more than $3 billion in cryptocurrency heists since 2017 and are targeting intelligence gathering on the U.S., South Korea, and Japan. Microsoft is working with OpenAI to disable accounts associated with North Korean entity Emerald Sleet, who has been using AI to improve their operations.

In response to the report, a Chinese Embassy spokesperson dismissed it as disinformation, claiming that China is committed to non-interference in domestic affairs like the U.S. presidential election. The spokesperson accused the U.S. of being the true breeding ground of disinformation, framing Chinese policy negatively. This report comes as Microsoft faces its own cybersecurity challenges, including a breach by Russian-linked groups and criticism for avoidable errors that led to a breach by Chinese-affiliated hackers.

In a related development, billionaire Elon Musk announced plans to purge bot accounts on his social media platform X (formerly Twitter), as the platform has struggled to control the emergence of fake accounts. Microsoft’s findings highlight the ongoing challenges posed by state-sponsored entities using social media and AI to influence public opinion and sow political divisions in global affairs.

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