US media reported in December that China’s state media, police force, and military are mining Western social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to track “anti-China personnel,” including foreign academics and journalists. According to a Washington Post report:
December 31, 2021 China is turning a major part of its internal Internet-data surveillance network outward, mining Western social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to equip its government agencies, military and police with information on foreign targets, according to a Washington Post review of hundreds of Chinese bidding documents, contracts and company filings. China maintains a countrywide network of government data surveillance services — called public opinion analysis software — that were developed over the past decade and are used domestically to warn officials of politically sensitive information online. The software primarily targets China’s domestic Internet users and media, but a Post review of bidding documents and contracts for over 300 Chinese government projects since the beginning of 2020 include orders for software designed to collect data on foreign targets from sources such as Twitter, Facebook and other Western social media. The documents, publicly accessible through domestic government bidding platforms, also show that agencies including state media, propaganda departments, police, military and cyber regulators are purchasing new or more sophisticated systems to gather data. These include a $320,000 Chinese state media software program that mines Twitter and Facebook to create a database of foreign journalists and academics.
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The report notes that these surveillance networks are part of a wider drive by the Chinese government to refine its foreign propaganda efforts through big data and artificial intelligence. The following Chinese media outlets are reported to be part of these networks:
- The Global Times, China’s leading English-language news outlet whose propaganda efforts have been extensively covered by the Global Influence Operations Report. According to the report, the outlet has a unit gathering foreign social media data for China’s Foreign Ministry, Beijing’s Foreign Affairs Office, and other government agencies.
- The People’s Daily Online, a unit of the state newspaper, the People’s Daily, provides one of the country’s largest contract public opinion analysis services. According to the report, the outlet won dozens of projects, including overseas social media data collection services for police, judicial authorities, Communist Party organizations, and other clients.
In June 2020, the US State Department angered Beijing by designating the US-based operations of China’s top state media outlets as foreign missions, increasing reporting requirements, and restricting their visa allocations.
In May, the Global Influence Operations Report reported that China had become the top spender on foreign influence operations in the US, with Chinese foreign agent spending skyrocketing from just over $10 million in 2016 to nearly $64 million in 2020.