China is turning to artificial intelligence to rile up U.S. voters and stoke divisions ahead of the country’s 2024 presidential elections, according to a new report.
Threat analysts at Microsoft warned in a blog post Thursday that Beijing has developed a new artificial intelligence capability that can produce “eye-catching content” more likely to go viral compared to previous Chinese influence operations.
According to Microsoft, the six-month-long effort appears to use AI-generators, which are able to both produce visually stunning imagery and also to improve it over time.
“We have observed China-affiliated actors leveraging AI-generated visual media in a broad campaign that largely focuses on politically divisive topics, such as gun violence, and denigrating U.S. political figures and symbols,” Microsoft said.
“We can expect China to continue to hone this technology over time, though it remains to be seen how and when it will deploy it at scale,” it added.
China on Thursday dismissed Microsoft’s findings.
“In recent years, some western media and think tanks have accused China of using artificial intelligence to create fake social media accounts to spread so-called ‘pro-China’ information,” Chinese Embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu told VOA in an email. “Such remarks are full of prejudice and malicious speculation against China, which China firmly opposes.”
According to Microsoft, Chinese government-linked actors appear to be disseminating the AI-generated images on social media while posing as U.S. voters from across the political spectrum. The focus has been on issues related to race, economic issues and ideology.
In one case, the Microsoft researchers pointed to an image of the Statue of Liberty altered to show Lady Liberty holding both her traditional torch and also what appears to be a machine gun.
The image is titled, “The Goddess of Violence,” with another line of text warning that democracy and freedom is “being thrown away.”
But the researchers say there are clear signs the image was produced using AI, including the presence of more than five fingers on one of the statue’s hands.
In any case, the early evidence is that the efforts are working.
“This relatively high-quality visual content has already drawn higher levels of engagement from authentic social media users,” according to a Microsoft report issued along with the blog post.
“Users have more frequently reposted these visuals, despite common indicators of AI-generation,” the report added.
Additionally, the Microsoft report says China is having Chinese state media employees masquerade as “as independent social media influencers.”
These influencers, who appear across most Western social media sites, tend to push out both lifestyle content and also propaganda aimed at localized audiences.
Microsoft reports the influencers have so far built a following of at least 103 million people in 40 languages.