A pro-China influencer campaign has targeted rare earth mining companies in Australia, Canada and the United States with negative messaging in an unsuccessful attempt to manipulate public discourse to benefit China.
Companies targeted included Australia’s Lynas Rare Earths Ltd, Canada’s Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp and US-based USA Rare Earth, threat intelligence firm Mandiant said in a report last week, calling the digital campaign dragon bridge.
“It targeted an industry of strategic importance to the PRC, specifically including three business entities challenging the PRC’s global market dominance in this industry,” Mandiant noted.
The goal, the company noted, was to stir up environmental protests against the companies and propagate counter-narratives in response to potential or planned rare earth production activities involving the targets.
This included a network of thousands of inauthentic accounts on numerous social media platforms and forums, which worked in tandem to spread content that apparently raised concerns about alleged environmental, health and labor issues regarding the operations of the three companies. .
Some of the fake accounts posed as Texas citizens in a 1,200-member public Facebook group called “STOP LYNAS!” NO to Lynas exporting and creating another toxic legacy,” alleging that the mining company risks exposing local people to radioactive contamination and poisoning.
The majority of posts were primarily in English, with limited content written in Chinese and Malay. That said, the activity reportedly received only limited engagement in the form of likes and comments from other accounts.
This is not the first time that the actor has been linked to disinformation operations carried out in support of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). While earlier activities in June 2019 focused primarily on discrediting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, they have since sought to physically mobilize protesters in the United States in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“DRAGONBRIDGE’s targeting of other rare earth mining companies underscores the campaign’s ability to monitor developments and respond accordingly,” the researchers said.