Canada says China used ‘Spamouflage’ campaign to target Justin Trudeau and other lawmakers

Chinese embassy in Canada calls accusations a ‘blatant smear campaign’

Maroosha Muzaffar
Tuesday 24 October 2023 11:00 BST
File photo of Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau
File photo of Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau (AP)

Canada’s government has said that a “Spamouflage” campaign with ties to China has targeted the social media profiles of its prime minister Justin Trudeau and several other members of parliament.

The “Spamouflage” campaign involved a network of either new or compromised social media accounts for spreading propaganda messages on several platforms, including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Medium, Reddit, TikTok and LinkedIn.

Diplomatic ties between Canada and China have remained strained since 2018 and Ottawa has often accused Beijing of meddling in its internal affairs, often through the use of secret overseas police stations. China has rejected all the allegations.

The Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) established by Global Affairs Canada (GAC) to oversee foreign state-sponsored disinformation activities attributed the campaign to the People’s Republic of China and said the campaign was meant to suppress criticism of the communist regime.

As per a report unveiled on Monday morning, the propaganda campaign had commenced in August this year and specifically targeted numerous lawmakers representing various political ideologies, the Canadian foreign ministry said in a statement.

GAC said the bot network gained significant momentum over the September long weekend, inundating social media accounts with thousands of comments in both English and French.

“This campaign could discourage and make it difficult for MPs to carry out their duties and may dissuade MPs and diaspora communities in Canada from speaking out on issues which concern them,” a foreign ministry report about the incident said.

In a statement, the Chinese embassy in Canada said Beijing has never interfered in the internal affairs of other countries. It said the accusations were a “blatant smear campaign” and that Canada was a “downright liar and disseminator of false information”.

“For some time now, the Canadian side has been falsely accusing China of spreading false information against Canadian politicians, a move that is in itself a dissemination of false information, in the absence of any direct and substantive evidence,” the embassy statement said.

GAC said posts from the campaign alleged a prominent critic of the Chinese Communist Party in Canada had accused the involved MPs of engaging in criminal and ethical transgressions.

The Chinese campaign employed what appeared to be “deepfake” manipulated videos, according to the department.

An email from GAC officials to the affected MPs said 47 of them from across Canada were targeted, CBC News reported. The email advised MPs on how to protect themselves from foreign interference and assured them the campaign did not present a threat to their safety.

“It is our assessment that the information operation was intended to negatively impact your reputation, not to cause you physical harm or endanger your family,” the email said.

“First, it likely seeks to discredit and denigrate the targeted MPs through seemingly organic posts, alleging impropriety, by posting waves of social media posts and videos that call into question the political and ethical standards of the MPs, using a popular Chinese-speaking figure in Canada,” the report said.

“Second, it likely seeks to silence criticism of the CCP by getting MPs to distance themselves from the critic and discouraging wider online communities from engaging with them.”

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