Chinese operators use AI to influence US voters, Microsoft claims

8 Sep 2023

Image: © gguy/

Microsoft claims Chinese actors are using generative AI to create compelling images to spread their divisive content across Western social media.

Microsoft claims state-sponsored hackers in China are using AI-generated images as a way to spread misinformation and influence US voters.

The company’s new report claims that – since March 2023 – Chinese actors have been conducting “influence operations” by using generative AI to create compelling images as they try to influence Western social media.

Microsoft said these accounts are affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and work to impersonate US voters and create controversy “along racial, economic and ideological lines”. The company claims the purpose of the AI-generated images is to help this content go viral across social networks in the US and other democracies.

The example images shared by Microsoft include one of the Statue of Liberty, which has more than five fingers on one hand – a common issue with AI image generators.

“This relatively high-quality visual content has already drawn higher levels of engagement from authentic social media users,” Microsoft said in the report. “These images bear the hallmarks of diffusion-powered image generation and are more eye-catching than awkward visual content in previous campaigns.”

While Microsoft claims China has been conducting influencing operations for years, the company also says these groups have become more effective than earlier operations that had easy-to-spot computer-generated handles, display names and profile pictures.

“These more sophisticated accounts are operated by real people who employ fictitious or stolen identities to conceal the accounts’ affiliation with the CCP,” Microsoft said in the report.

The Microsoft report comes two months after the organisation was hacked by attackers suspected to be linked to China. These hackers managed to access the emails of 25 organisations according to Microsoft. There were reports of multiple high profile figures in the US government being involved, including the US ambassador to China.

Recently, Microsoft revealed that these hackers were able to impersonate Microsoft Azure AD users after hacking the account of a company engineer.

Meanwhile, Google has revealed plans to tackle AI-generated ads being used in political campaigns. The company aims to force advertisers to clearly disclose if their content is AI generated.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic