A botnet operating in the Chinese language on Elon Musk’s Twitter appears to be campaigning to downplay serious allegations that the Chinese Communist Party directly worked to appoint Liberal Party candidates who became Members of Parliament in the 2021 Canadian Federal Election.
The allegations originate from leaks alleged to originate from CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, to the country’s establishment media and include further claims that the CCP directly laundered money to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family foundation in 2015.
Discovery of the botnet originates from independent media outlet True North Canada (TNC), which published findings on March 14 of an investigation it conducted using both the Twitter and Google APIs on Chinese language tweets that used the words “China (and) Canada” or “Trudeau” from March 3.
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The outlet found 1,128 unique tweets spread by 688 different accounts. TNC says that 132 of the accounts “showed classic indicators of being bots.”
“Efforts included parroting Chinese state propaganda, directly attacking the credibility of the claims or downplaying their significance,” they wrote.
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One such account with the handle “1banshengful” was especially egregious, being created as early as Jan. 6 and tweeting as many as 160 times a day.
The account was seen trolling a Voice of America Chinese article post on the election interference scandal, decrying Canada as a “puppet state of the United States.”
True North elaborated, “Content regularly posted by 1banshengfu derides Chinese dissidents in Hong Kong, spreads propaganda about the Uyghur people and other messaging in-line with China’s interests.”
Another bot account TNC identified was one with a gibberished alphanumeric handle and the profile name “刘全” (Liu Quan; To Slaughter All) created in 2017 but with only 10 followers. The account replied in Chinese to a post by The New York Times on the scandal, “China has no time to talk to you, our target is the United States. Canada thinks too highly of itself.”
Very similar behavior was seen in one with a handle using eight numbers and the name “luckydog” created in August of 2022 with 10 followers who replied to a report by a Singapore-based Chinese language outlet on the scandal, stating, “In Canada, where the weather is extremely cold, China will not be interested in whatever you want.”
On March 7 the account tweeted, “Happy Women’s Day, ladies. I wish you more and more beautiful.”
But Canada is of significant strategic interest to the Communist Party, according to the CSIS leakers who revealed the scandal.
The Globe and Mail was one of the first to break the story in mid February, describing the regime’s initiative in Canada as “an orchestrated machine” that employed the Vancouver Consulate and Chinese Embassy to “create strategies to leverage politically [active] Chinese community members and associations within Canadian society.”
More reporting that was published at the end of February by Global News alleged that CSIS had asked the Trudeau campaign to cancel the 2019 candidacy of a Chinese candidate in the crucial Toronto riding of Don Valley North after an investigation by the spy agency found the Toronto Chinese Consulate had hand picked the candidate to replace a predecessor they were not happy with.
Global said that CSIS “relied on surveillance and wiretap evidence as well as human-source reporting” to come to its conclusions.
The candidate, who won the election and is now a seated Member of Parliament, was also alleged to have traveled to New York State for an “alleged meeting with a senior official from Beijing’s United Front Work Department.”
In September of 2021, cybersecurity firm FireEye published a report uncovering a large swath of botnet accounts with similar characteristics patrolling Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to whitewash CCP talking points in the wake of the 2019 “Heaven Will Eliminate the Chinese Communist Party” protests in Hong Kong.
In August of the same year, the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) published an 80-page report on the subject of CCP-linked botnets, discovering they used artificial intelligence-generated profile photos while employing a “coordinated attempt, using a mix of fake, real and stolen social media accounts, to distort international perceptions on significant issues, elevate China’s reputation amongst its supporters, and discredit claims critical of the Chinese Government.”
True North noted other accounts in its investigation “disseminated a large amount of sexually explicit material alongside pro-China political content,” a tactic they described as one commonly “employed by Chinese bots to generate noise around topics controversial for communist China’s regime, like Hong Kong for instance.”
The outlet interviewed Kyoko Kuwahara, a researcher with the Japan Institute of International Affairs and a visiting fellow with Canadian think tank MacDonald-Laurier Institute as stating, “China tends to seek to create a favorable information environment for itself by disseminating the information which is favorable for them on these platform.”
Kuwahara used a specific example to make the point, “When China was criticized for its repression of ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, it also disseminated its own claims and narratives, for instance using some videos which showed the Uyghurs saying that they live happily.”