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China Quietly Builds Network of TikTok, Facebook Influencers to Push Propaganda

April 5th, 2022 14:36

US media is report­ing that Chi­na has qui­et­ly built a net­work of social media per­son­al­i­ties and influ­encers who par­rot the government’s per­spec­tive in posts seen by hun­dreds of thou­sands of unsus­pect­ing Insta­gram, Face­book, Tik­Tok, and YouTube users around the globe. Accord­ing to a report by the Asso­ci­at­ed Press:

March 30, 2022 As Chi­na con­tin­ues to assert its eco­nom­ic might, it is using the glob­al social media ecosys­tem to expand its already for­mi­da­ble influ­ence. The coun­try has qui­et­ly built a net­work of social media per­son­al­i­ties who par­rot the government’s per­spec­tive in posts seen by hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple, oper­at­ing in vir­tu­al lock­step as they pro­mote China’s virtues, deflect inter­na­tion­al crit­i­cism of its human rights abus­es and advance Beijing’s talk­ing points on world affairs like Russia’s war against Ukraine. Some of China’s state-affil­i­at­ed reporters have posit­ed them­selves as trendy Insta­gram influ­encers or blog­gers. The coun­try has also hired firms to recruit influ­encers to deliv­er care­ful­ly craft­ed mes­sages that boost its image to social media users. And it is ben­e­fit­ting from a cadre of West­ern­ers who have devot­ed YouTube chan­nels and Twit­ter feeds to echo­ing pro-Chi­na nar­ra­tives on every­thing from Beijing’s treat­ment of Uyghur Mus­lims to Olympian Eileen Gu, an Amer­i­can who com­pet­ed for Chi­na in the most recent Win­ter Games.

Read the rest here.

The AP report cites research by Miburo, a firm track­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion, which says there are at least 200 Chi­nese state-affil­i­at­ed social media influ­encers oper­at­ing in 38 dif­fer­ent lan­guages. These influ­encers have col­lec­tive­ly amassed more than 10 mil­lion fol­low­ers and subscribers.

In Feb­ru­ary, the Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report report­ed on the research by Miburo, which defines the three broad cat­e­gories of influ­encers the Chi­nese com­mu­nist par­ty (CCP) is using for pro­pa­gan­da efforts:

  • Hon­ey­pots are young, attrac­tive lifestyle influ­encers (pri­mar­i­ly women) who are high­ly inter­ac­tive with their audi­ences. Their reg­u­lar con­tent seems apo­lit­i­cal, but they nor­mal­ize the CCP’s worldview.
  • Peers are pri­mar­i­ly West­ern influ­encers who speak and look like their tar­get audi­ences. They act as CCP voice­box­es, tak­ing their view­ers on tours of var­i­ous loca­tions around Chi­na while prais­ing devel­op­ments in tech­nol­o­gy, soci­ety, and even agrar­i­an reforms.
  • Veiled Chi­nese state media (CSM) reporters are CSM employ­ees who iden­ti­fy as reporters and jour­nal­ists but are not always forth­com­ing about their CSM affil­i­a­tions on West­ern social media. Some open­ly attack West­ern demo­c­ra­t­ic sys­tems, accus­ing them of hypocrisy and human rights abuses.

How­ev­er, accord­ing to the AP, most Chi­nese influ­encer social media accounts are incon­sis­tent­ly labeled as state-affil­i­at­ed on social media plat­forms. While some accounts are labeled on Face­book or Insta­gram, they are not flagged on YouTube or TikTok.

For more than a decade, Chi­na has been ramp­ing up its over­seas mes­sag­ing effort through state-spon­sored media out­lets and influ­encer mar­ket­ing. The GIOR has exten­sive­ly cov­ered Chi­nese covert efforts to spread pro­pa­gan­da, including:

  • How Chi­na used pri­vate mar­ket­ing agen­cies to hire Eng­lish-speak­ing YouTube influ­encers to pro­mote pre-made videos insin­u­at­ing that Covid-19 orig­i­nat­ed in North America.
  • How Chi­na hired west­ern social media influ­encers to spread pos­i­tive sto­ries about Chi­na through­out the Win­ter Olympics and Paralympics
  • How Chi­na taps pri­vate busi­ness­es to gen­er­ate con­tent on-demand, draw fol­low­ers, track crit­ics, and pro­vide oth­er ser­vices for infor­ma­tion cam­paigns on social media plat­forms such as Twit­ter and Facebook
  • How Chi­na cul­ti­vates a net­work of West­ern pro-Chi­na YouTube influencers

The GIOR was also among the first pub­li­ca­tions to uncov­er a net­work of inau­then­tic social media accounts flood­ing YouTube with hun­dreds of Chi­nese pro­pa­gan­da videos white­wash­ing China’s human rights vio­la­tions against the Mus­lim Uyghur pop­u­la­tion in Xin­jiang and push­ing the hash­tag #StopX­in­jian­gRu­mors.