Google shut down thousands of pro-Beijing disinformation channels on Taiwan, COVID-19

Google says it shut down more than 50,000 accounts promoting pro-People’s Republic of China (PRC) disinformation in 2022 that focused on Taiwan, COVID-19 and U.S. politics. 

The takedowns are the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between Google and a campaign it has named “Dragonbridge.” 

Since 2019, the company says has shut down more than 100,000 accounts on YouTube, Blogger and AdSense connected to Dragonbridge actors — calling the group the “most prolific” disinformation actor it tracks. Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) worked with Mandiant and Graphika to examine the campaign in 2022. 

While most of the content pushed out by the disinformation network is “low quality and without a political message” according to TAG, there was a higher volume of content released last year that was critical of the governments of Taiwan and the U.S.

The group typically published content supportive of China’s response to COVID-19 and critical of how the U.S. handled the pandemic as well as the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While much of the content is targeted toward Chinese speakers, some of it is in English and other languages, Google says. 


So far, the disinformation operations haven't developed much traction with viewers or readers, TAG said, but the group keeps producing content anyway.

“Despite their scale and profuse content production, Dragonbridge achieved practically no organic engagement from real viewers — in 2022, the majority of Dragonbridge channels had 0 subscribers when Google disrupted them, and over 80% of Dragonbridge videos had fewer than 100 views,” TAG researchers said

“Engagement for Dragonbridge’s blogs on Blogger was also low, with nearly 95% receiving 10 or fewer views. While Dragonbridge has not attracted an organic audience, they are persistent and adaptable.”

The group continues to evolve its tactics and up the quality of its content — prompting TAG and Mandiant to continue tracking Dragonbridge in fears that their messages may “eventually attract the attention of real users.”

Of the 56,771 channels Google disabled, 58% had zero subscribers and 42% of their videos had zero views, according to TAG statistics. The researchers found that 83% of the videos had fewer than 100 views and nearly 95% of the group’s blogs received 10 or fewer views. More than 96% received no comments at all.

Most of the engagement and commentary the content garnered came from other Dragonbridge accounts. 

“Most of their posts are spammy, nonsensical material without an overt political message — often clips of animals, landscapes, food, sports and other content. Blurry visuals, garbled audio, poor translations, malapropisms, and mispronunciations are also common,” the researchers said. 

“The content is often hastily produced and error-prone — for example, neglecting to remove Lorem Ipsum text from a video.”

TAG noted that in 2022, the group published more content that waded into politics, promoting pro-Chinese government candidates in Hong Kong and bashing the pro-democracy protests in the city.

Taiwan angles

The group also heavily promoted “Armed Reunification” with Taiwan. TAG saw a spike in that kind of content during and after former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taipei in August.


Screenshots from the Taiwan videos. Image: Google

As the Chinese military conducted its controversial drills around Taiwan after the visit, the Dragonbridge channels were flooded with content supporting unification. 

“Dragonbridge sharply escalated its rhetoric, uploading militaristic videos of the PLA and political videos calling for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen and her political allies to ‘surrender,’ moving away from criticism of Speaker Pelosi,” TAG said. 

“Dragonbridge displayed unusually coherent behavior in using uniform hashtags and titles across channels, while swiftly and repeatedly uploading topical, high-production-value content that was not interspersed with the usual misdirecting spam. The pace and manner of this pivot highlighted Dragonbridge’s additional sensitivity to geopolitical developments in China’s immediate neighborhood, and Taiwan in particular.”

TAG noted that some of the content was critical of exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, prominent U.S. politicians and Chinese virologists. 

Several videos focus on U.S. political divisions and more general criticism of democracy — prodding the U.S. government for allegedly stoking tensions abroad and “meddling in the domestic affairs of other countries.”

The topics covered ranged from racial inequality to inflation, COVID-19 response and other controversial issues. 


A screenshot from one video. (Google)

The content peaked during the 2022 U.S. midterm elections and Google terminated several channels within the campaign that were spreading calls for political violence and threats to democracy. 

“They presented election narratives as if they were short news clips. One video, previously reported by Mandiant, attempted to cast voting in the US as ineffective and a waste of time,” TAG said. 

Churning through accounts

Dragonbridge manages infrastructure consisting of thousands of accounts at any given time, the researchers said.

TAG found that the group purchases Google accounts from sellers who create and sell accounts for money, noting that some of the accounts “were previously used for financially motivated activity, then went dormant before they resumed activity and posted Dragonbridge videos and blogs.

TAG said it believes accounts like this are “changing hands from other bad actors to Dragonbridge.”

The group evolved its tactics in 2022, testing out videos that contained human voice narration and on-camera news-like formats. Some of the content included animated political cartoons as well. 

They also mix the political content in with beauty advice and cooking tips as a way to disguise channels. 

Dragonbridge was previously implicated in disinformation campaigns centered around China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the U.S. midterm elections, rare earth mining companies and more.

In August 2022, Mandiant said it believes the sites are linked to the public relations firm Shanghai Haixun Technology Co., and have dubbed the campaign “HaiEnergy.”

“Despite their failure to gain traction with an authentic audience, Dragonbridge generates high volumes of content across multiple platforms, is persistent and continues to experiment in their tactics and techniques,” TAG said. 

“That is why we have scaled our efforts to disrupt Dragonbridge coordinated inauthentic activity on our platforms.”

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Jonathan Greig

Jonathan Greig

is a Breaking News Reporter at Recorded Future News. Jonathan has worked across the globe as a journalist since 2014. Before moving back to New York City, he worked for news outlets in South Africa, Jordan and Cambodia. He previously covered cybersecurity at ZDNet and TechRepublic.