US media is reporting on China’s attempts to cultivate a network of Western YouTube influencers living in China spreading pro-China messages online. According to a New York Times investigation:
December 13, 2021 Millions have watched Lee and Oli Barrett’s YouTube dispatches from China. The father and son duo visit hotels in exotic locales, tour out-of-the-way villages, sample delicacies in bustling markets and undergo traditional ear cleanings. The Barretts are part of a crop of new social media personalities who paint cheery portraits of life as foreigners in China — and also hit back at criticisms of Beijing’s authoritarian governance, its policies toward ethnic minorities and its handling of the coronavirus. The videos have a casual, homespun feel. But on the other side of the camera often stands a large apparatus of government organizers, state-controlled news media and other official amplifiers — all part of the Chinese government’s widening attempts to spread pro-Beijing messages around the planet. State-run news outlets and local governments have organized and funded pro-Beijing influencers’ travel, according to government documents and the creators themselves. They have paid or offered to pay the creators. They have generated lucrative traffic for the influencers by sharing videos with millions of followers on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. With official media outlets’ backing, the creators can visit and film in parts of China where the authorities have obstructed foreign journalists’ reporting.
Read the full investigation here.
The NYT report notes that most of the Western YouTubers deny that the Chinese government somehow influences their work, even when government entities sometimes pay them for their videos. However, the report details how their content still serves as propaganda for the Chinese government:
- Trips for travel videos are often organized by government entities that decide what places to visit
- Chinese government entities often promote the videos on social media to boost their channels and distort social media algorithms
- Chinese diplomats and representatives have shown their videos at news conferences