April 29, 2024 | WIRED

Elise Thomas on ‘MAGAflage’ and improvements to China’s state-sponsored disinformation campaign

ISD Senior OSINT Analyst Elise Thomas spoke to WIRED about new ‘MAGAflage’ activity, a Chinese disinformation campaign related to US politics, under the umbrella of longtime pro-CCP ‘Spamouflage’ campaign. Unlike previous initiatives, which have been largely ineffective since 2017, these posts are becoming increasingly difficult to detect by researchers and the public.  

“What is different about these MAGAflage accounts is that real people are looking at them” she said, highlighting how a post from a fake Chinese account had a video from Russian State channel RT. The video posted a debunked allegation that US President Joe Biden and the CIA had sent a neo-Nazi to Ukraine to fight in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. The post was shared by known conspiracist Alex Jones receiving hundreds of thousand of views. 

Elise also mentioned how activity detected from four accounts differed from the regular Spamouflage content in its attempt to organically engage with users, as opposed to automated content, which so far has seen little success in gaining online traction.  

“If they start doing it with new accounts that don’t have those interesting connections to the Spamouflage network and if you then hypothetically lay on top of that, if they start using large-language models to generate text with AI, I think we’re in a lot of trouble,” she said.