SHANGHAI: Microsoft researchers said on Thursday they found what they believe is a network of fake, Chinese-controlled social media accounts seeking to influence US voters by using artificial intelligence.

A Chinese embassy spokesperson in Washington said that accusations of China using AI to create fake social media accounts were “full of prejudice and malicious speculation” and that China advocates for the safe use of AI.

In a new research report, Microsoft said the social media accounts were part of a suspected Chinese information operation. The campaign bore similarities to activity which the US Department of Justice has attributed to “an elite group within (China’s) Ministry of Public Security,” Microsoft said.

The researchers did not specify which social media platforms were affected, but screenshots in their report showed posts from what appeared to be Facebook and Twitter, now known as X.

Beijing says accusations are ‘full of prejudice and malicious speculation’

The report highlights a fraught social media environment as Americans prepare for the 2024 presidential election. The US government has accused Russia of meddling in the 2016 election with a covert social media campaign and has warned of subsequent efforts by China, Russia and Iran to influence voters.

The report provided limited examples of the recent activity and did not explain in detail how researchers attributed the posts to China.

A Microsoft spokesperson said that the company’s researcher used a “multifaceted attribution model,” which relies on “technical evidence, behavioural evidence and contextual evidence.” The campaign began using generative artificial intelligence technology in about March 2023 to create politically charged content in English and “mimic US voters,” Microsoft said. Generative AI can create images, text and other media from scratch.

The new content is much more “eye-catching than the awkward visuals used in previous campaigns by Chinese nation-state actors, which relied on digital drawings, stock photo collages, and other manual graphic designs,” the researchers wrote.

The paper cited an example of one AI-generated image, which Microsoft said came from a Chinese account, that depicts the Statue of Liberty holding an assault rifle with the caption: “Everything is being thrown away. THE GODDESS OF VIOLENCE.” The Microsoft spokesperson said the identified accounts had attempted to appear American by listing their public location as within the United States, posting American political slogans, and sharing hashtags relating to domestic political issues.

Comparable to ChatGPT

Chinese tech giant Tencent on Thursday claimed its new chatbot had some capabilities on par with top US rival ChatGPT, as the global artificial intelligence race heats up.

Tencent’s “Hunyuan Aide”, which it released to the public on Thursday, follows the similar ERNIE Bot rolled out by fellow Chinese company Baidu last month.

Beijing introduced fresh regulations last month for AI developers, aiming to allow them to stay in the race with the likes of ChatGPT maker OpenAI and Microsoft while tightly controlling information online.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2023

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