A pro-China influence campaign singled out rare earth mining companies in Australia, Canada, and the U.S. with negative messaging in an unsuccessful attempt to manipulate public discourse to China's benefit.
Targeted firms included Australia's Lynas Rare Earths Ltd, Canada's Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp, and the American company USA Rare Earth, threat intelligence firm Mandiant said in a report last week, calling the digital campaign Dragonbridge.
The goal, the company noted, was to instigate environmental protests against the companies and propagate counter-narratives in response to potential or planned rare earths production activities involving the targets.
This comprised a network of thousands of inauthentic accounts across numerous social media platforms and forums, that worked in tandem to disseminate content that seemingly raised concerns over alleged environmental, health, and labor issues over the operations of the three firms.
Some of the bogus accounts masqueraded as Texas citizens in a public 1,200-member Facebook group called "STOP LYNAS! NO to Lynas Exporting and Creating Another Toxic Legacy," alleging the mining firm risks exposing local populations to radioactive contamination and poisoning.
A majority of the posts were primarily in English, with limited content written 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 conducted in support of the People's Republic of China (PRC). While earlier activities in June 2019 were primarily focused on discrediting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, they have since sought to physically mobilize protestors in the U.S. in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"DRAGONBRIDGE's targeting of additional rare earths mining companies underscores the campaign's ability to monitor developments and respond accordingly," the researchers said.