Microsoft warns that China is using AI to stir the pot ahead of US election

With the US presidential election looming, China is stepping up its disinformation game with increased use of AI, Microsoft’s Threat Analysis Center (MTAC) reports.

MTAC issued a report today that found Chinese state-linked individuals have upped the amount of AI being used to create misinformation and have also started to pose as Americans while asking divisive questions on US domestic issues via social media. Microsoft suggests this could be an attempt to gather intelligence on key US voting demographics, possibly to help tailor disinformation.

“China will, at a minimum, create and amplify AI-generated content that benefits their positions in these high-profile elections,” Microsoft said, adding that China also appears to be targeting national elections in India and South Korea as well. North Korean cyber actors appear to be lending a hand too, MTAC says.

While Microsoft believes the impact of these efforts will be limited, “China’s increasing experimentation in augmenting memes, videos, and audio will likely continue – and may prove more effective down the line.” 

The report cites several examples of Chinese-affiliated miscreants, led by someone MTAC dubbed Storm-1376, as having already tried to spread conspiracy theories in the US. Microsoft has attributed to China posts about the wildfires on Maui in Hawaii last year being an intentional act by the US government to test a “weather weapon”. Such conspiracy theories have been touted elsewhere and made recovery efforts on the island more difficult.

China has made similar moves to sow disinformation about US drug use, a train derailment in Kentucky last year, race relations, urban decay, and other hot-button issues Stateside.

“While Chinese cyber actors have long conducted reconnaissance of US political institutions, we are prepared to see influence actors interact with Americans for engagement and to potentially research perspectives on US politics,” MTAC said in the report.

Microsoft reckons it spotted a surge in AI-generated disinformation during the January 2024 presidential election in Taiwan, much of which was also attributed to Chinese threat actors led by Storm-1376. Those efforts included fake audio of Foxconn owner and former presidential candidate Terry Gou making a fake endorsement, AI-generated news anchors reporting fake news and other efforts.

In short, just one more report telling us to get ready for a wild, AI-powered, disinformation-filled ride this election season. ®


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