A pro-China influence campaign selected rare earth mining companies in Australia, Canada and the US with negative reports in a failed attempt to manipulate public debate in China’s favor.
Targeted companies included Australia’s Lynas Rare Earths Ltd, Canada’s Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp, and US company USA Rare Earth.
The goal, the company noted, was to spark environmental protests against the companies and spread 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, who collaborated to disseminate content ostensibly raising concerns about alleged environmental, health and labor issues across the three companies’ operations.
Some of the fake accounts disguised as Texas citizens in a 1200 member public Facebook group called “STOP LYNAS! NO to Lynas Exporting and Creating Another Toxic Legacy,” alleging that the mining company risks exposing locals to radioactive contamination and poisoning.
Most posts were mainly in English, with limited content in Chinese and Malay. That said, the activity is said to have received only limited engagement in the form of likes and comments from other accounts.
This is not the first time the actor has been linked to disinformation operations in support of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). While previous activities in June 2019 have focused mainly on discrediting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, they have since sought physically mobilize protesters in the US in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“DRAGONBRIDGE’s targeting of additional rare earth mining companies underscores the campaign’s ability to monitor developments and respond accordingly,” the researchers said.