Google’s Threat Analysis Group terminated tens of thousands of accounts linked to a group known as “Dragonbridge” or “Spamouflage Dragon” that is disseminating pro-Chinese disinformation across multiple online platforms.
According to Google, Dragonbridge gets new Google Accounts from bulk account sellers, and, in some instances, they’ve even switched to accounts previously used by financially motivated actors repurposed for posting disinformation videos and blogs.
Last year, the company took down more than 50,000 accounts used by Dragonbridge across its platforms, including YouTube, Blogger, and AdSense. In total, 100,960 accounts have been shut down since the influence network was first spotted.
This reflects Google’s focus on this coordinated information operation linked to China, described as “the most prolific IO actor TAG tracks.”
Almost no engagement from real viewers
However, despite the Chinese influence operation’s large size and high volume of content production, it has minimal to no engagement from real viewers.
For instance, the vast majority of its YouTube channels had no subscribers when they were taken down last year, and more than 80% of videos had fewer than 100 views.
Dragonbridge blogs on Blogger also had a very low engagement, with less than 10 views per post for almost 95% of posts when they were terminated in December.
“Most DRAGONBRIDGE activity is low quality content without a political message, populated across many channels and blogs. However, a small fraction of DRAGONBRIDGE accounts also post about current events with messaging that pushes pro-China views,” Google TAG’s Zak Butler and Jonas Taege said.
“In 2022, the overwhelming majority of DRAGONBRIDGE content Google disrupted never reached a real audience. Among the 53,177 channels we disabled in 2022, 58% had zero subscribers and 42% of their videos had zero views. 83% of those videos had fewer than 100 views.”
Signs of evolving tactics
Despite its lack of engagement from authentic viewers, the pro-Chinese disinformation operation is exhibiting persistence and adaptability.
The group, which has been monitored by Google TAG analysts since 2019, has consistently switched tactics and experimented with new formats and higher-quality content.
This shows that there is still a risk that the group’s activity will eventually land on the radars of real users, which would likely boost the overall impact of its content criticizing the U.S. and pushing pro-China messages.
“Despite their failure to gain traction with an authentic audience, DRAGONBRIDGE generates high volumes of content across multiple platforms, is persistent and continues to experiment in their tactics and techniques,” Google added.
“That is why we have scaled our efforts to disrupt DRAGONBRIDGE coordinated inauthentic activity on our platforms.”