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Chinese State-Linked Networks Tried To Influence Online Discourse on Xinjiang, Study Finds

January 16th, 2022 14:24

The Aus­tralian Strate­gic Pol­i­cy Insti­tute (ASPI), an Aus­tralian think tank, is report­ing on two decen­tral­ized Chi­nese state-linked net­works seek­ing to influ­ence dis­course about Xin­jiang across plat­forms, includ­ing Twit­ter and YouTube. Accord­ing to the ASPI report:

Decem­ber 2, 2021 This report analy­ses two Chi­nese state-linked net­works seek­ing to influ­ence dis­course about Xin­jiang across plat­forms includ­ing Twit­ter and YouTube. This activ­i­ty tar­get­ed the Chi­nese-speak­ing dias­po­ra as well as inter­na­tion­al audi­ences, shar­ing con­tent in a vari­ety of lan­guages.  Both net­works attempt­ed to shape inter­na­tion­al per­cep­tions about Xin­jiang, among oth­er themes. Despite evi­dence to the con­trary, the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty (CCP) denies com­mit­ting human rights abus­es in the region and has mount­ed mul­ti­fac­eted and mul­ti­plat­form infor­ma­tion cam­paigns to deny accu­sa­tions of forced labour, mass deten­tion, sur­veil­lance, ster­il­i­sa­tion, cul­tur­al era­sure and alleged geno­cide in the region. Those efforts have includ­ed using West­ern social media plat­forms to both push back against and under­mine media reports, research and Uyghurs’ tes­ti­mo­ny about Xin­jiang, as well as to pro­mote alter­na­tive nar­ra­tives. In the datasets we exam­ined, inau­then­tic and poten­tial­ly auto­mat­ed accounts using a vari­ety of image and video con­tent shared con­tent aimed at rebut­ting the evi­dence of human rights vio­la­tions against the Uyghur pop­u­la­tion. Like­wise, con­tent was shared using fake Uyghur accounts and oth­er shell accounts pro­mot­ing video ‘tes­ti­mo­ni­als’ from Uyghurs talk­ing about their hap­py lives in Chi­na.  Our analy­sis includes two datasets removed by Twit­ter. […] The net­works showed indi­ca­tions of being linked by theme and tac­tics; how­ev­er, nei­ther achieved sig­nif­i­cant organ­ic engage­ment on Twit­ter overall—although there was notable inter­ac­tion with the accounts of CCP diplo­mats. There were signs of old accounts being repur­posed, whether pur­chased or stolen, and lit­tle attempt to craft authen­tic per­sonas.  Twit­ter has attrib­uted both datasets to the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, the lat­ter dataset is specif­i­cal­ly linked to a com­pa­ny called Changyu Cul­ture, which is con­nect­ed to the Xin­jiang provin­cial government.

Read the full report here.

The GIOR was 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. Sev­er­al months after we pub­lished our find­ings, the New York Times pub­lished a major inves­ti­ga­tion into the same Chi­nese influ­ence oper­a­tion first cov­ered by the GIOR.