Probable PRC “Spamouflage” campaign targets dozens of Canadian Members of Parliament in disinformation campaign
Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) Canada has detected an information operation on social media targeting Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs).
The operation, connected to the publicly reported “Spamouflage” campaign, began in August and targeted dozens of MPs from across the political spectrum and spanning multiple geographic regions of Canada, including the Prime Minister, the leader of the Official Opposition, and several members of Cabinet.
Spamouflage should be considered a tactic or technique, not an entity. It is a network of new or hijacked social media accounts that posts and increases the number of propaganda messages across multiple social media platforms – including Facebook, X/Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Medium, Reddit, TikTok, and LinkedIn. The word is a combination of “spam” and “camouflage”, intended to portray the hidden attempts to spread spam-like content and propaganda among more every-day, human-interest-style content. Spamouflage networks are largely contained within their own echo chambers of fake users, and rarely garner organic social media engagement from real users.
Beginning in early August 2023 and accelerating in scale over the September long-weekend, the bot network left thousands of comments in English and French on the Facebook and X/Twitter accounts of MPs, claiming a critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Canada had accused the various MPs of criminal and ethical violations.
The same bot networks involved in this campaign were engaged in the spreading of disinformation claiming that the Hawaiian wildfires were caused by a secret US military “weather weapon”, and have been connected to disinformation about Japan’s Fukushima water release in August 2023.
Analysis by RRM Canada suggests that the bot-network is part of the well-known Spamouflage network. Spamouflage has been publicly reported on by technology companies and threat intelligence experts, who have connected the activity to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
RRM Canada assesses the goal of the operation is two-fold. First, it likely seeks to discredit and denigrate the targeted MPs through seemingly organic posts, alleging impropriety, by posting waves of social media posts and videos that call into question the political and ethical standards of the MPs, using a popular Chinese-speaking figure in Canada. Second, it likely seeks to silence criticism of the CCP by getting MPs to distance themselves from the critic and discouraging wider online communities from engaging with them.
Foreign information manipulation and interference undermines Canada’s democracy and the ability of Canadians to exercise their rights and freedoms free from intimidation. This campaign could discourage and make it difficult for MPs to carry out their duties and may dissuade MPs and diaspora communities in Canada from speaking out on issues which concern them.
Located at Global Affairs Canada, RRM Canada leads the G7 RRM on an ongoing basis, supports Canada’s international engagement to counter foreign state-sponsored disinformation, and monitors the digital information environment, looking for indications of foreign information manipulation and interference. Its responsibilities include acting as an early warning system for the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections Task Force during general election periods.
RRM Canada takes an evidence-based approach in its monitoring and collection work. Its open-source data analytics are based on both primary open-source data and secondary sources to identify emerging trends and tactics related to foreign information manipulation and interference in democratic processes and institutions. RRM Canada’s work is subject to an ethical and methodological framework, publicly available on the InternetFootnote 1, which outlines how its methods respect and reinforce human rights and freedoms. This includes the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and equality. The framework anchors the team’s analytical activities in an existing policy, legal and regulatory context and is intended to provide transparency and accountability to Canadians.
The Government of Canada will continue to monitor the digital information environment for foreign information manipulation and respond when necessary and appropriate, including through public disclosure and diplomatic engagement.
The Government of Canada will continue to be observant of any and all recommendations made by the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in the course of their ongoing reviews of possible foreign interference in the 43rd and 44th Canadian federal general electionsFootnote 2.
The Government of Canada has established numerous mechanisms for Canadians to report suspected foreign interference. Further details are available on Public Safety Canada’s website.Footnote 3
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