Pro-China group is waging online campaign against US rare earths industry, cybersecurity firm says


New Delhi: A pro-China group has reportedly waged an online social media campaign to target the US rare earth industry, US cybersecurity firm Mandiant has claimed.

According to the American Institute of Geosciences, rare earth refer to 17 metallic elements that form the components needed to manufacture products such as cell phones, televisions, electric vehicles and defense equipment such as radars and sonar systems.

A report published Tuesday by Mandiant says a pro-China group called Dragonbridge has used “nuanced tactics” against companies like Lynas, Appia and USA Rare Earth. These included impersonating local residents online to spark protests against the construction of a rare earth processing facility in Lynas, Texas. The development of the facility is the result of an agreement signed between the US Department of Defense and Lynas to boost the US domestic rare earth industry.

“The stories claimed that by placing the Lynas plant in Texas, the Biden administration would expose the region to irreversible environmental damage and the local population to radioactive contamination and adverse health effects such as cancer risks. , genetic mutations and malformations in newborns,” Mandiant report said.

“Tactics to manipulate public discourse”

Expanding on his claims, Mandiant also shared several screenshots of so-called Twitter and Facebook accounts from April and May that called for a boycott and shared concerns about Lynas and its rare earths plant. Mandiant also found other “newly identified” social media accounts that criticized Appia and USA Rare Earth, and posted memes or links that were “known Dragonbridge content.”

These accounts, Mandiant asserts, reflect characteristics synonymous with past Dragonbridge-run sockpuppet account activity.

“For example, the accounts used profile pictures from a variety of online sources, including stock photographs, animals and cartoons, suggesting they were trying to conceal their identity…Many usernames consisted of into English names followed by seemingly random number strings.

“In addition to the accounts posting the same or similar rare earth-related content, we have also observed that some accounts are posting the same or similar non-political content, such as inspirational quotes, wellness, travel, and content. sporty,” the report added.

However, the direct impact of these social media posts pointed to by Mandiant appears to have been limited, by the cybersecurity firm’s own admission. What Mandiant has attempted to highlight is the “microtargeting” of a local issue, as an example of a tactic used to “manipulate the public discourse surrounding other American political issues in order to [China’s] advantage”.

As such, Mandiant sees Dragonbridge’s online activity as indicative of the extent to which China views the rare earths industry as strategically important. However, the lack of tangible impact of specific messages represents a “limiting factor” in generating meaningful enough engagement among Americans.

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