The era of disinformation driven by artificial intelligence is here.
For years, pundits have warned that the dawn of smarter software in the form of artificial intelligence would make it easier. Propaganda campaigns driven entirely by robotic trolls are still a long ways off but researchers at the disinformation-tracking firm found that a far-right media group used AI-generated profile pictures to build up a network of fake Facebook users and pages found in one of the largest troll takedowns in Facebook history.
On Friday, Facebook pulled down a network of 700 pages with 55 million followers run by The Beauty of Life, a media outlet linked to the Epoch Media Group. Researchers at the disinformation-tracking groups Graphika and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab found that “dozens” of the fake accounts found in the network taken down by Facebook had avatars that had been generated by AI software as part of a campaign Graphika dubbed Operation Fake Face Swarm.
In a report published on Friday, Graphika wrote that the Beauty of Life campaign used a kind of artificial intelligence known as generative adversarial networks in order to create fake profile photos. Its unclear which specific software platform Beauty of Life admins used but the software in general can create realistic-looking photos of humans who never existed without copying or alerting photos of an existing person.
The network’s use of AI-generated photos gave them the advantages of stealth and scale in creating an empire of fake social media content. The bot-created photos couldn’t be traced with reverse image search engines and allowed Beauty of Life trolls to crank out fake profiles in bulk.
Graphika researchers found that the Beauty of Life network also used other automation tools, like Postcron, which lets users churn out social media posts in bulk across several platforms and accounts.
The automation and software support helped build the network Beauty of Life up to a massive scale, making it “nominally the largest takedown” in Facebook’s history when the social media platform took it down on Friday, according to Graphika.
The largest cluster within the Beauty of Life network taken down on Friday was a group 80 pages written in the Vietnamese language and dedicated to pro-Trump content which echoed anti-impeachment statements from President Trump and stories from pro-Trump outlets like Breaitbart.com.
The Beauty of Life network claimed that its goal was to “present to the world the most beautiful aspects of life” but many of its posts focused on China and the communist party. In a report on the network published on Friday, Graphika wrote that much of the group’s content was “consistently hostile toward China” and “included accusations that China is interfering in Taiwan’s elections and that the CCP is launching World War Three.”
Epoch Media Group, which Graphika says ran the Beauty of Life campaign, is closely associated with the Falun Gong movement, a dissident Chinese religious group persecuted by the Chinese government. Epoch Media Group has taken a strongly supported the Trump across its various outlets since President Trump came to office. The group spent millions of dollars on pro-Trump political ads before Facebook banned the group from its advertising platform for its attempts to hide the origin of its political ad spending.