Pro-China YouTube Network Used AI to Smear US, Report Says

Pro-China YouTube Network Used AI to Smear US, Report Says

In a slightly stilted tone and with slightly awkward grammar, the American-accented voice on YouTube last month ridiculed Washington’s handling of the war between Israel and Hamas, claiming that the United States was incapable of “playing its role as a mediator like China.” ” and “You are now in a position of significant isolation.”

The 10-minute post was one of more than 4,500 videos in an unusually large network of YouTube channels spreading pro-China and anti-US narratives, according to a report this week by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank. focused on security.

Some of the videos used artificially generated avatars or voiceovers, making the campaign the institute’s first known influence operation to combine AI voices with video essays.

The goal of the campaign, according to the report, was clear: influence world opinion in favor of China and against the United States. The videos promoted narratives that Chinese technology was superior to American technology, that the United States was doomed to economic collapse, and that China and Russia were responsible geopolitical actors. Some of the clips fawned over Chinese companies like Huawei and denigrated American companies like Apple.

Content from at least 30 network channels attracted nearly 120 million views and 730,000 subscribers since last year, along with occasional ads from Western companies, the report said.

Some of the videos featured titles and scripts that appeared to be direct translations of common Chinese phrases and names of Chinese companies, according to the report. Others mentioned information that could be traced back to news stories that were primarily produced and circulated in mainland China.

Misinformation, such as the false claim that some Southeast Asian nations had adopted the Chinese yuan as their own currency, was common. The videos were often able to react quickly to current events. Jacinta Keast, an analyst at the Australian institute, wrote that the coordinated campaign could be “one of the most successful China-related influence operations ever witnessed on social media.”

YouTube said in a statement that its teams are working around the clock to protect its community, adding that “we have invested heavily in robust systems to proactively detect coordinated influence operations.” The company said it appreciated the investigative efforts and had shut down several of the channels mentioned in the report for violating the platform’s policies.

Efforts to push pro-China messaging have proliferated in recent years, but have featured largely low-quality content that attracted limited engagement or failed to maintain significant audiences, Keast said.

“This campaign actually leverages artificial intelligence, giving it the ability to create persuasive threat content at scale at a very limited cost compared to previous campaigns we’ve seen,” he said.

Several other recent reports have suggested that China has become more aggressive in pushing propaganda that denigrates the United States. Historically, its influence operations have focused on defending the Community Party government and its policies on issues such as the persecution of the Uyghurs or the fate of Taiwan.

China began targeting the United States more directly amid mass pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019 and continued with the Covid-19 pandemic, echoing long-standing Russian efforts to discredit the leadership. and American influence at home and abroad.

Over the summer, researchers at Microsoft and other companies uncovered evidence of inauthentic accounts that China used to falsely accuse the United States of using energy weapons to spark the deadly wildfires in Hawaii in August.

In a report In September, the State Department accused China of using “deceptive and coercive methods” to shape the global information environment, including creating fake social media accounts and even fake news organizations. Other investigations suggests that China has actively spread disinformation in Taiwan that the United States will eventually betray the island nation.

Meta announced last month that it removed 4,789 Chinese Facebook accounts that were posing as Americans to discuss political issues, warning that the campaign appeared to be laying the groundwork for interference in the 2024 presidential election. It was the fifth network with ties to China that Meta detected this year, the most than any other country.

The arrival of artificial technology seems to have sparked special interest in Beijing. Ms Keast, of the Australian institute, said disinformation peddlers were increasingly using easily accessible video editing and artificial intelligence programs to create large volumes of compelling content.

He said the pro-China network of YouTube channels likely introduced English scripts into online text-to-video software or other programs that require no technical expertise and can produce clips in minutes. These programs typically allow users to select AI-generated voice narrations and customize the gender, accent, and tone of voice.

Some of the voices used in the pro-China network were clearly synthetic. Ms. Keast noted that the audio lacked natural pauses and included pronunciation errors and occasional notes of electronic interference. Occasionally, multiple channels on the network used the same voice. (However, one group of videos attempted to trick viewers into thinking a real person was speaking, incorporating audio such as “I’m your host, Steffan.”)

In 39 of the videos, Keast found at least 10 artificially generated avatars advertised by a British artificial intelligence company. He wrote that he also discovered what could be the first example in an influence operation of a digital avatar created by a Chinese company: a woman in a red dress named Yanni.

The scale of the pro-China network is likely even larger, according to the report. Similar channels appeared to be aimed at Indonesians and French. Three different channels published videos about chip production that used similar thumbnail images and the same title translated into English, French and Spanish.

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John C. Johnson

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