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China Increasingly Outsources Its Online Influence Operations To Private Contractors

November 29th, 2021 15:04

A US Chi­na ana­lyst is report­ing that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is increas­ing­ly out­sourc­ing its online influ­ence oper­a­tions to pri­vate com­pa­nies, pay­ing them to post pos­i­tive sto­ries in the west. Accord­ing to a report by Jor­dan Schneider:

Novem­ber 8, 2021 Almost two decades after Chi­na began mar­shal­ing its “fifty-cent army” to manip­u­late pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion on the inter­net, the play­ers involved in China’s online “opin­ion guid­ance” have changed, herald­ing a new era of Chi­nese influ­ence oper­a­tions on social media.  It is time to look beyond the “fifty-cent army” mod­el of paid-per-post pro­pa­gan­da (which has not been seri­ous­ly re-exam­ined in the last five years). […]

Here, we see a change in the ways that local and cen­tral gov­ern­ment organs are con­tract­ing out social media work: rather than pay­ing indi­vid­u­als to post and pro­mote con­tent along with oth­er gov­ern­ment duties, local gov­ern­ments are con­tract­ing out social media influ­ence work to pri­vate inter­net com­pa­nies, who take over all of the agency’s social media oper­a­tions for a set peri­od of time.   To flesh out a pic­ture of how the gov­ern­ment pays pri­vate com­pa­nies to han­dle its pro­pa­gan­da work on West­ern social media, I dug into Chi­nese gov­ern­ment pub­lic pro­cure­ment data­bas­es. I col­lect­ed hun­dreds of pro­cure­ment announce­ments relat­ed to over­seas social media (or “海外社交媒体,” hai­wai she­jiao meiti) projects post­ed to local and cen­tral gov­ern­ment pro­cure­ment net­work between 2013 and 2020.

Read the full report here.

Ana­lyz­ing hun­dreds of Chi­nese pub­lic pro­cure­ment doc­u­ments, the report shows that Chi­nese gov­ern­ment agen­cies at all lev­els are increas­ing­ly hir­ing pro­fes­sion­al com­pa­nies to take over their social media man­age­ment and online dis­course work – pay­ing them to post pos­i­tive sto­ries about the gov­ern­ment, local cul­ture, eco­nom­ic growth, or oth­er qua­si-polit­i­cal aspects of life in China.

The report iden­ti­fies two Chi­nese two firms that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has hired to under­take its social media work:

  • Shen­zhen Yis­han Media Com­pa­ny, which oper­ates in the US under the name March Lion Agency and EI Com­merce (pre­vi­ous­ly EI Studio)
  • Yiqil­ian, an offi­cial Face­book Mar­ket­ing part­ner which owns the mar­ket­ing plat­form Pan­daMobo, one of only ten Chi­nese com­pa­nies that can legal­ly and direct­ly adver­tise on Facebook