What just happened? Microsoft has warned that Chinese operatives have been using artificial intelligence to generate images with the aim of spreading disinformation and influencing US voters ahead of the 2024 election. The content focuses on politically divisive topics, including gun violence, and denigrating US political figures and symbols.

Analysts from Microsoft Threat Analysis Center highlighted the campaign in a report titled 'Digital threats from East Asia increase in breadth and effectiveness.'

The use of AI to generate the images means that the material being produced is "more eye-catching content than the awkward digital drawings and stock photo collages used in previous campaigns," which helps increase user engagement.

These sorts of generated images often come with tell-tale signs that they've been created by an AI, but they're still fooling plenty of people. One example is an image of the Statue of Liberty, complete with the caption "The Goddess of Violence," with more than five fingers on one hand. There's also a poster depicting the Black Lives Matter movement in which a Black man is surrendering while surrounded by bullet holes.

The images were uploaded to "Western" social media accounts affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party and then reposted by others.

Microsoft writes that hours after the Black Lives Matter poster was uploaded, an account impersonating a conservative US voter reposted the image, complaining about racial discrimination under President Biden.

"Unlike earlier IO campaigns from CCP-affiliated actors that used 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," the researchers wrote.

Another strategy being successfully used by China is its "multilingual internet celebrity studios," which involves more than 230 state media employees and affiliates masquerading as independent social media influencers across all major Western social media platforms. They have a combined following of at least 103 million across multiple platforms speaking at least 40 languages, spreading Chinese Communist Party propaganda around the world.

Microsoft also warned that North Korea is continuing its cyberattacks and intrusions. The country is gathering intelligence on South Korea, the US, and Japan, "targeting the maritime and shipbuilding sectors, suggesting this as a high-priority area for the North Korean government," writes Microsoft. It has also targeted the Russian government and defense industry, despite expressing support for Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

It was only last week when Meta said it had taken down thousands of fake accounts that were part of a massive disinformation campaign linked to Chinese law enforcement. While the deleted accounts were on Facebook and Instagram, the network is also present on non-Meta platforms including Reddit and YouTube, spreading positive posts about China and negative comments about the US.