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