Huawei was recently busted in Europe for waging an aggressive online social media campaign which utilized a small army of fake accounts in order to sway European officials over telecommunications policy.
In particular the “covert pro-Huawei influence campaign” sought to convince Belgium lawmaker’s to see it China’s way at a moment the United States is targeting its building 5G networks in the West.
The New York Times details that in one documented instance, a now former contract employee wrote a pro-Huawei article arguing that the company shouldn’t be punished based on new draft legislation being considered in Belgium. It then went viral based on a clearly coordinated initiative that went far beyond usual corporate PR and propaganda.
The author of the Dutch-language article was later surprised to see the article take off and circulate among many “experts” he had never heard of:
First, at least 14 Twitter accounts posing as telecommunications experts, writers and academics shared articles by Vermulst and many others attacking draft Belgium legislation that would limit “high risk” vendors like Huawei from building the country’s 5G system, according to Graphika, a research firm that studies misinformation and fake social media accounts. The pro-Huawei accounts used computer-generated profile pictures, a telltale sign of inauthentic activity.
From there, it went from being shared among the fake accounts, apparently including Twitter bots, to real accounts among top level Huawei executives in what the NYT report admits was a pretty rudimentary scheme:
Next, Huawei officials retweeted the fake accounts, giving the articles even wider reach to policymakers, journalists and business leaders. Kevin Liu, Huawei’s president for public affairs and communications in Western Europe, who has a verified Twitter account with 1.1 million followers, shared 60 posts from the fake accounts over three weeks in December, according to Graphika. Huawei’s official account in Europe, with more than 5 million followers, did so 47 times.
But interestingly and tellingly the Times report stops far short of alleging Chinese state sponsorship to the information op, despite the long record of state support fueling the telecommunications giant’s global rise.
The pattern has been that Russian state “influence ops” are often alleged or assumed on much lesser grounds and evidence,