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The Red Wave: How China Weaponizes Disinformation Panel Discussion on "Media for Democracy" on World Press Freedom Day at the United Nations, May 3, 2019. Courtesy of United Nations.

The Red Wave: How China Weaponizes Disinformation

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As the 2024 presidential election approaches, experts are raising concerns that China is seeking to interfere in the election through disinformation operations. The New York Times recently published a report outlining how Chinese interference operations are growing through the creation of fake social media accounts promoting conspiracy theories.

Through targeted disinformation, China seeks to interfere in American elections to delegitimize America’s status as a reliable global leader. Thus, Chinese disinformation campaigns undermine American national security interests.

The Digital Age of Foreign Interference in American Elections

China’s interference operations are part of larger efforts by foreign adversaries to undermine American election integrity and capitalize on lessons learned by Russia during its efforts in 2016.

Following the 2016 presidential election, governmental agencies and experts detailed how Russia undermined Americans’ trust in democratic institutions. Russia commanded an interference operation called “Operation Lakhta.” The Russian-operated Internet Research Agency, a troll farm, generated fake social media accounts that purported to be Americans supporting extreme political groups. These accounts on platforms like Facebook and Twitter spread fabricated articles and promoted Russian propaganda against the American government.

According to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Russian social media accounts posted advertisements “principally aimed at African Americans” to inflame racial tensions. Such targeting fueled Russian attempts to stage protests that pit political and racial groups against each other. In May 2016, two Russian-operated Facebook groups called “United Muslims of America” and “Heart of Texas” organized dueling rallies in front of the Islamic Da’wah Center of Houston. The Heart of Texas page announced its organization of a “Stop Islamification of Texas Rally,’ which caused confrontation between protesters who believed the groups were real.

Chinese Digital Disinformation Tactics

Like Russia, China is spearheading digital disinformation campaigns to erode Americans’ faith in democratic institutions.

China has been found to operate troll farms generating thousands of fake accounts to disseminate disinformation during election years. Chinese hackers target demographic groups with specially tailored disinformation meant to exacerbate these users’ distrust towards other social and political groups. In the 2022 midterms, China spearheaded a social media campaign targeting Democratic and Republican voters. Chinese hacker groups identified by companies like Recorded Future and Mandiant posted social media videos that promoted “civil war” as a solution to America’s political divides.

China further spreads such disinformation through artificial intelligence (AI) and has already done so to interfere in foreign elections. In the weeks leading up to the January 2024 Taiwan elections, researchers from Doublethink Lab determined that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) created dozens of videos on social media platforms that disseminated disinformation targeting the Taiwanese president. Through what the Taiwan foreign ministry calls “cognitive warfare,” China uses a combination of troll farms and AI to stoke divisions in rival countries.

Chinese Disinformation Operations for the 2024 Presidential Elections

Chinese hackers are continuing to operate these disinformation campaigns to interfere in the 2024 presidential election.

These disinformation operations pair their generation of fake social media accounts with AI. Experts have determined that AI-generated content, including deepfakes, is being utilized by foreign adversaries like China to disseminate disinformation about political candidates. UC Berkeley computer science professor Hany Farid claims that deepfakes are becoming more “sophisticated and compelling,” allowing adversaries to deploy multiple mechanisms to dupe voters. A Department of Homeland Security memorandum further conveyed that generative AI capabilities “may amplify existing risks for election infrastructure,” thereby making election offices, officials, and vendors more vulnerable to disinformation attacks.

National security officials are examining disinformation campaigns operated by CCP-supported Chinese officials. One prominent Chinese campaign, known as “Spamouflage,” networks hundreds of thousands of disinformation accounts to push anti-American messages and discredit American politicians. In April 2023, the Department of Justice charged 34 Chinese government officials for their involvement in a foreign interference operation believed to be Spamouflage. Chinese disinformation operations represent a significant national security threat, and these mechanisms of dissemination will continue attempting to undermine Americans’ trust in democratic institutions.


Through targeted digital disinformation campaigns, China is heightening its efforts to interfere in the 2024 presidential election by stoking political division among Americans. As China seeks to supplant the United States as a leader of a multipolar global order, Chinese leaders are hedging their bets that disinformation campaigns through the 2024 presidential election can further divide Americans. By exacerbating political animosities and weaking distrust among Americans, China can portray the United States as too unstable and unreliable to remain as a global leader, and hobble America’s ability to establish cohesive or effective policy. Thus, China’s disinformation operations benefit China’s interests to supplant the United States as a preeminent global leader.