Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) has burned more than 50,000 spammy fake news stories and other content posted by the pro-China ‘Dragonbridge’ gang.
Dragonbridge ran disinformation campaigns across Google-owned platforms YouTube, Blogger and AdSense. Meta and Twitter have also removed fake content from China that looks and sounds very similar to Dragonbridge’s efforts.
The TAG team has also terminated 100,900 Dragonbridge accounts since 2019, Googlers Zak Butler and Jonas Taege wrote in a Thursday post.
Dragonbridge is a pro-China, anti-US crew that, among other things, tried to meddle in the 2022 American midterm elections and trolled rare-earth mining companies using thousands of phony social media accounts, prompting a stern finger-wagging by the Pentagon.
Dragonbridge attempts- to to discredit US political leadership
It is also the most prolific information-operations threat actor that TAG tracks, according to Google.
But despite pumping out a ton of fake content, Dragonbridge has captured little attention.
TAG disabled 53,177 Dragonbridge YouTube channels last year. Of these, “58 percent had zero subscribers and 42 percent of their videos had zero views,” Butler and Taege wrote, adding that 83 percent of those videos had less than 100 views.
They group didn’t fare much better on the Blogger platform, where almost 95 percent of posts that TAG terminated were viewed ten times or fewer.
Whatever Dragonbridge lacks in terms of audience recruitment success, , the group makes up for it with persistence and adaptability, according to Google.
Over the three years that Google’s investigators have tracked Dragonbridge, the China-based crew has constantly tried new tactics and created better-quality content, we’re told. This includes producing talk-show format videos with real people discussing current events, and “high-quality” beauty advice and cooking tips.
“As they evolve over time, Dragonbridge’s coordinated inauthentic activity may eventually attract the attention of real users,” Butler and Taege said. “For this reason, TAG and Mandiant track Dragonbridge closely and Google has taken an aggressive approach to identifying and removing their content.”
While most of the posts are low-quality (blurry visuals and forgetting to remove place-holder text from a video are two examples TAG cites) and spammy (animals and landscapes), during 2022 Dragonbridge increased its pro-China messages and criticisms of the US.
Some of the pro-China narratives that TAG removed praised Beijing’s response to COVID-19 and blasted pro-democracy protests.
The group also cranked out more fake content shortly after the announcement of a possible visit to Taipei by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in late July, with a focus on Pelosi’s finances and family. That theme was “in line with usual Dragonbridge patterns of attempting to discredit US political leadership,” according to Butler and Taege.
By August, however, during and after the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) military drills, the group shifted its focus away from Pelosi and toward pro-PLA propaganda and videos calling for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen to “surrender.”
Dragonbridge’s content creators also try to tap into US current events to paint the country in a negative light. “In 2022, Google removed Dragonbridge content on topics such as US Covid-19 response, racial inequality, political divisions, inflation, and other controversial topics,” Butler and Taege wrote.
While Dragonbridge is the most prolific, it’s not the only information-operations group that TAG tracks.
In its fourth-quarter bulletin published this week, the threat hunters reported that they also shut down more than 1,600 YouTube channels, Blogger blogs and AdSense accounts linked to Russia, Iran, Brazil, Azerbaijan and other countries between October and December 2022. ®