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China’s Evolving Influence Tactics During The First Year Of Covid-19

October 8th, 2021 11:46

The Cen­ter for Secu­ri­ty Stud­ies (CSS), a Swiss think tank,has pub­lished a report exam­in­ing how the tac­tics of China’s influ­ence oper­a­tions have evolved dur­ing the first year of the Covid-pan­dem­ic. Accord­ing to the report’s exec­u­tive summary:

July 2021 In a bid to strength­en per­cep­tions of legit­i­ma­cy of this mes­sag­ing cam­paign, Chi­na has relied on offi­cial con­duits, such as diplo­mats and state media. This offi­cial mes­sag­ing has large­ly been framed to stay with­in the bound­aries of plat­form rules, per­cep­tive­ly tak­ing advan­tage carve-outs, to claim inac­tion by social media  plat­forms as con­fir­ma­tion that Chi­na is abid­ing by the rules and as stamp of legit­i­ma­cy for its nar­ra­tive con­trol efforts. Anchored with­in plat­form rules, the core  mes­sag­ing of China’s influ­ence oper­a­tions has been pro­mot­ed by dis­pens­able ampli­fi­ca­tion net­works of hijacked or fake social media  accounts  that can be recon­struct­ed with com­par­a­tive ease, when tak­en down by social media companies. […]

To arrive at a care­ful eval­u­a­tion of impact, this report con­cen­trates on how the tac­tics of China’s influ­ence oper­a­tions have evolved dur­ing the first year of the pan­dem­ic. Look­ing at China’s key pri­or­i­ty of infor­ma­tion con­trol, the first sec­tion con­cep­tu­al­izes the adap­ta­tion of  influ­ence oper­a­tions to align with this pref­er­ence while tak­ing advan­tage of the glob­al reach  of social media. Build­ing on this under­stand­ing, sec­tion two explores the ways in which Chi­nese influ­ence oper­a­tions have attempt­ed to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly exploit carve-outs that have  emerged from how social media have reg­u­lat­ed offi­cial state­ments and news­wor­thy  con­tent.  Sec­tion three ana­lyzes in more detail the inte­grat­ed mes­sag­ing  appa­ra­tus Chi­na has sought to devel­op, in par­tic­u­lar in  respect of the spe­cif­ic roles that China’s diplo­mat­ic net­work,  state  media, and fake social media accounts  play in cre­at­ing, shap­ing, and pro­mot­ing nar­ra­tives.  Unpack­ing China’s attempts to dis­tin­guish its endeav­or  of nar­ra­tive con­trol from dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns, sec­tion four exam­ines China’s respons­es to accu­sa­tions  of dis­in­for­ma­tion and steps tak­en by social media com­pa­nies and by tar­get­ed states to address this  spe­cif­ic tac­tic. The report con­cludes with eval­u­at­ing the poten­tial impli­ca­tions of China’s influ­ence oper­a­tions in terms of their imme­di­ate objec­tive to shape inter­na­tion­al per­cep­tions of China’s actions dur­ing the pan­dem­ic and rais­es  atten­tion about  the capa­bil­i­ties devel­oped in this process and their poten­tial deploy­ment in case of a fur­ther dete­ri­o­ra­tion of rela­tions with China.

Read the full report here.