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China Uses Private Marketing Companies to Hire English-Speaking YouTube Influencers to Spread Covid-19 Disinformation

February 16th, 2022 15:52

The Aus­tralian Strate­gic Pol­i­cy Insti­tute (ASPI), an Aus­tralian think tank, is report­ing that Chi­na is using pri­vate mar­ket­ing agen­cies to hire Eng­lish-speak­ing YouTube influ­encers to pro­mote pre-made videos insin­u­at­ing that Covid-19 orig­i­nat­ed in North Amer­i­ca. Accord­ing to a report by The Strategist:

Feb­ru­ary 8, 2022 Beijing’s quest to pro­mote pos­i­tive images of Chi­na over­seas blurs the dis­tinc­tion between pub­lic­i­ty and pro­pa­gan­da. Gov­ern­ment depart­ments con­tract pri­vate com­pa­nies to fun­nel dis­in­for­ma­tion on West­ern social media and co-opt influ­encers along­side their legit­i­mate pub­lic-rela­tions activ­i­ties. Con­se­quent­ly, the country’s cul­tur­al indus­try is finan­cial­ly incen­tivised to fol­low a broad­er ide­o­log­i­cal agen­da while being stran­gled by cen­sor­ship and reg­u­la­tion on sen­si­tive issues.  On 6 Sep­tem­ber 2021, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from a Hong Kong–based mar­ket­ing agency, Pear Tech­nol­o­gy (梨科技), emailed more than 100 Eng­lish-speak­ing YouTube influ­encers, most­ly based in the US, offer­ing cash to post pro­mo­tion­al videos about Hainan, an island province of the People’s Repub­lic of Chi­na. Acci­den­tal­ly, one of the recip­i­ents was the shared busi­ness email account of YouTube con­tent cre­ators and Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty crit­ics Win­ston Sterzel and Matthew Tye.  After some ini­tial cor­re­spon­dence, the rep­re­sen­ta­tive offered Sterzel and Tye a new deal. They had anoth­er ‘client’ that could pay US$2,000 to pro­mote a pre-made video insin­u­at­ing that Covid-19 orig­i­nat­ed in North Amer­i­ca and spread via white-tailed deer. […] A Pear Tech­nol­o­gy rep­re­sen­ta­tive con­firmed that the mys­te­ri­ous client was like­ly affil­i­at­ed with the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment but said they didn’t ‘real­ly know who [their] client is and which depart­ment [they’re] from’. They said Pear Tech­nol­o­gy was a ‘fresh­ly estab­lished start-up com­pa­ny’ and that its ‘devel­op­ment team does not real­ly sam­ple through [their] clients as [they] just want to make mon­ey’. Gov­ern­ment per­son­nel were also known to ‘email out to var­i­ous dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agen­cies with their needs and see if any of them would take this case’.

Read the rest here.

The report notes that the video referred to above sug­gests Covid-19 may have orig­i­nat­ed from the US instead of Wuhan because a US gov­ern­ment study had detect­ed Covid-19 anti­bod­ies in sam­ples col­lect­ed from deers in ear­ly 2020. How­ev­er, the video omits that the same study explains the sin­gle sam­ple was like­ly a false pos­i­tive due to test­ing error –  first report­ed by Chi­nese media but lat­er removed.