Microsoft reveals Chinese groups use AI content to undermine US elections

Chinese hacking groups have been targeting critical infrastructure in the US, and Microsoft has also faced criticism for its response to a suspected Chinese cyberespionage campaign.

 Mailbox, Box, Cardboard, Carton

Microsoft Corp. has identified Chinese groups using social media and AI-generated images to incite controversy and gain insights into American perspectives on divisive issues during the election year. According to a report by Microsoft, these groups have spread conspiratorial content, such as blaming the US government for the 2023 wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui. The disinformation campaign involved posts in 31 languages, alleging that the US government intentionally caused the blaze, accompanied by AI-generated images of burning coastal roads.

The investigation into the Maui wildfires is ongoing, with a focus on whether power lines owned by Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. may have sparked the flames. Microsoft noted that these fabricated images demonstrate how Chinese government-affiliated groups are adopting new tactics to advance geopolitical priorities through disinformation and cyberattacks. However,  it remains to be seen whether AI has significantly amplified the effectiveness of these efforts.

Microsoft’s report suggests that the accounts responsible for spreading this disinformation are likely operated by the Chinese government or entities aligned with state interests. Despite these findings, the Chinese Embassy did not respond to requests for comment, which is consistent with the government’s denial of involvement in such activities. Researchers have noted the use of AI to create convincing images and manipulated videos, although Microsoft’s assessment suggests that the impact of such content in influencing audiences remains limited.

Why does it matter?

Since last fall, Microsoft has observed a gradual increase in social media accounts linked to China disseminating inflammatory narratives. These influence campaigns have targeted Taiwan’s election and exacerbated rifts in the Asia-Pacific region. On Taiwan’s election day, a Chinese-associated propaganda group reportedly used an AI-generated audio recording to imply an endorsement from Terry Gou, owner of Foxconn Technology Group and former presidential candidate, for another candidate.

Microsoft’s efforts coincide with US government warnings about Chinese hacking groups targeting critical infrastructure, including communications and transportation systems. Microsoft has also been subject to criticism in a recent US government report regarding its response to suspected Chinese cyberespionage campaigns.