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Exclusive: YouTube Flooded With Chinese Propaganda Videos Denying Forced Labor Accusations In Xinjiang

May 11th, 2021 09:59

A Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report (GIOR) inves­ti­ga­tion has found that YouTube is being flood­ed with hun­dreds of Chi­nese pro­pa­gan­da videos denounc­ing West­ern com­pa­nies after they accused the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment of using forced labor in the cot­ton-grow­ing Xin­jiang region. The videos, all of which fea­ture Eng­lish and Chi­nese sub­ti­tles and are aimed at a West­ern audi­ence, were also found to white­wash China’s human rights vio­la­tions against the province’s Uyghur minor­i­ty. West­ern com­pa­nies that source prod­ucts from Xin­jiang and that have spo­ken out against Chi­nese poli­cies in the region have pre­vi­ous­ly faced threats of a boy­cott by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment. In March 2021, US media report­ed that Britain, Cana­da, the Euro­pean Union, and the Unit­ed States announced coor­di­nat­ed sanc­tions on Chi­nese offi­cials in an esca­lat­ing row over the treat­ment of Uyghurs in Xin­jiang. Accord­ing to a New York Times arti­cle:

March 22, 2021 The Unit­ed States placed sanc­tions on top Chi­nese offi­cials on Mon­day, as part of a multi­na­tion­al effort to pun­ish Bei­jing for human rights abus­es against the large­ly Mus­lim Uyghur minor­i­ty group, which Amer­i­can offi­cials have called a geno­cide.  The penal­ties — in coor­di­na­tion with the Euro­pean Union, the Unit­ed King­dom and Cana­da — come days after the Biden administration’s heat­ed encounter with Chi­nese offi­cials in Alas­ka, and will most like­ly widen ten­sions between Wash­ing­ton and Beijing.

Read the rest here.

Just a few days after these sanc­tions were first announced, the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party’s youth wing launched a cam­paign against large West­ern brands which had pre­vi­ous­ly stat­ed they would not source prod­ucts from Xin­jiang any­more. Accord­ing to a Law­fare report:

April 9, 2021 Days after the recent EU sanc­tions, the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Youth League repost­ed a Novem­ber 2020 state­ment from H&M that the com­pa­ny does not source prod­ucts from Xin­jiang. The Com­mu­nist Youth League com­ment­ed, “Spread­ing rumors to boy­cott Xin­jiang cot­ton, while also want­i­ng to make mon­ey in Chi­na? Wish­ful think­ing!” This post kicked off a larg­er boy­cott of West­ern brands includ­ing H&M, Nike, Adi­das and Burber­ry. Chi­nese celebri­ties end­ed their affil­i­a­tions with the brands, and pop­u­lar online retail­ers includ­ing Aliba­ba and JD.com stopped car­ry­ing their products.

Read the rest here.

GIOR has estab­lished that sev­er­al fake YouTube chan­nels, includ­ing some pre­vi­ous­ly exposed as Chi­nese pro­pa­gan­da accounts, have start­ed to flood the plat­form with hun­dreds of videos denounc­ing com­pa­nies such as H&M, Adi­das, and Nike while at the same time white­wash­ing China’s human rights vio­la­tions. Hai Cham, one of the largest of these fake chan­nels, was set up in Jan­u­ary 2021 and so far has uploaded more than 261 videos, all of which alleged­ly por­tray eth­nic minori­ties from Xin­jiang. In April alone, Hai Cham uploaded more than 86 videos that fea­ture Uyghur Mus­lims, and oth­er eth­nic minori­ties said to be work­ing in Xinjiang’s cot­ton indus­try. The videos claim that West­ern com­pa­nies were spread­ing lies about the work­ing con­di­tions there and car­ry titles such as “Some for­eign brands start rumors on Chi­na,” “H&M, Don’t smear us or talk non­sense any­more,” or “Xin­jiang cot­ton is not pro­duced by forced labor.”

Lea Chou, anoth­er chan­nel linked to the same net­work, has pub­lished strik­ing­ly sim­i­lar-themed videos, with titles includ­ing “I think H&M Group is too ridicu­lous,” “For­eign Com­pa­nies Boy­cotting Xin­jiang Cot­ton are Total­ly Wrong,” and “We won’t allow our pure white and good qual­i­ty cot­ton to be trash!”. Lea Chou’s videos say they depict “ordi­nary peas­ants” from Xin­jiang, and most of the fea­tured tes­ti­mo­ni­als fea­ture short mono­logues which accuse West­ern brands of spread­ing “lies” and “false state­ments.” The chan­nel was set up in Novem­ber 2020 and has uploaded more than 170 videos over the last two months.

Also part of this pro­pa­gan­da net­work Adax阿达西, a chan­nel recent­ly uploaded videos such as “Give a like for #Xinjiang​ cot­ton,” “Forced labor false­ly claimed by H&M does not exist,” and “Stop rumors about Xin­jiang Cot­ton and so-called forced labor.” Adax阿达西 was cre­at­ed in Novem­ber 2020 and has uploaded more than 120 videos over the last two months.

GIOR has iden­ti­fied numer­ous sim­i­lar­i­ties across the videos:

  • All of the YouTube accounts linked to the net­work have cov­ered sim­i­lar issues at iden­ti­cal points in time.
  • All are aimed at a West­ern audi­ence and fea­ture Eng­lish and Chi­nese subtitles.
  • Most videos are just one or two min­utes long and depict a sin­gle per­son hold­ing a short mono­logue that often sounds scripted.

The videos ana­lyzed for this report also fea­ture recur­ring themes and sequences: They often start with a per­son say­ing they had heard about the boy­cott by H&M and how the accu­sa­tions made by the firm were lies. They then go on to praise the mech­a­niza­tion of cot­ton har­vest­ing in Xin­jiang, claim­ing the cot­ton was now picked very effi­cient­ly. This is usu­al­ly fol­lowed by an expla­na­tion of how much mon­ey they earned with their work and how much bet­ter their lives were because of this. Often, they then would give a small tour through their house to prove that they are well-to-do. Sev­er­al videos close with a final state­ment denounc­ing West­ern com­pa­nies, most­ly H&M, for their alleged lies.

The observed sim­i­lar­i­ties across the network’s videos sug­gest they are part of a coor­di­nat­ed influ­ence oper­a­tion aimed at coun­ter­ing West­ern alle­ga­tions of human rights vio­la­tions in Xin­jiang. So far, most of these videos have attract­ed lit­tle to no views, sug­gest­ing lim­it­ed suc­cess in chang­ing West­ern opinion.

Recent GIOR report­ing on China’s YouTube influ­ence oper­a­tions includes:

  • In March 2021, an exclu­sive GIOR inves­ti­ga­tion exposed a Chi­nese influ­ence oper­a­tion that includ­ed accounts men­tioned in this arti­cle that had flood­ed YouTube with hun­dreds of pro­pa­gan­da videos white­wash­ing China’s human rights vio­la­tions in Xin­jiang and push­ing the hash­tag #StopX­in­jian­gRu­mors.
  • In the same month, we report­ed that YouTube had tak­en down almost 3,000 chan­nels deemed part of a Chi­nese influ­ence operation.
  • In April 2021, the GIOR report­ed that Chi­na was using West­ern YouTu­bers to defend itself against accu­sa­tions of human rights vio­la­tions in Xinjiang.