A widespread campaign has exploited Synthesia, a British AI company, to create convincing avatars in video essays promoting pro-China and anti-US narratives.
Dubbed ‘Shadow Play’ by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), the campaign involves at least 30 YouTube channels. ASPI identified over 4,500 videos that had amassed 120 million views.
“It focuses on promoting a series of narratives, including China’s efforts to ‘win the US-China technology war’ amid US sanctions targeting China. It also includes a focus on Chinese and US companies, such as pro-Huawei and anti-Apple content,” ASPI said.
“The campaign’s ability to amass and access such a large global audience – and its potential to covertly influence public opinion on these topics – should be cause for concern,” it added.
Following the findings, YouTube removed 19 channels from the ‘Shadow Play’ network on the grounds of inauthentic behavior and spam.
The campaign relies on AI to spread convincing messages. For example, it used a synthetic media generation company, Synthesia, to generate the avatars in the videos.
ASPI believes a Mandarin-speaking actor is behind the campaign: “The operator of this network could be a commercial actor operating under some degree of state direction, funding, or encouragement.”
The campaign promotes six narratives, and they are as follows:
- China and Russia are responsible, capable players in geopolitics and current world events
- China is winning the US-China tech war and overcoming US sanctions
- China is highly capable and trusted to build massive infrastructure projects
- China is winning the rare earths, critical minerals, and electric vehicles competition
- The US economy is weak, and the US dollar is no longer the world’s strongest currency
- The US is headed for collapse, and its alliance partnerships are fracturing
One of the traits that make this campaign unique is the combination of video essays and AI tools.
“Video essays are a popular style of medium-length YouTube video in which a narrator makes an argument through a voiceover, while content to support their argument is displayed on the screen. This shows a continuation of a trend that threat actors are increasingly moving towards: using off-the-shelf video editing and generative AI technology tools to produce convincing, persuasive content at scale that can build an audience on social-media services,” ASPI noted.
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