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How China Spreads Disinformation About Xinjiang

December 19th, 2021 15:52

US media is report­ing on the var­i­ous ways Chi­nese actors are spread­ing pro­pa­gan­da and dis­in­for­ma­tion about China’s Xin­jiang region, where the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is wag­ing a cam­paign against its Uyghur Mus­lim minor­i­ty. Accord­ing to a Law­fare report:

Decem­ber 1, 2021 Chi­na engages in a great deal of tra­di­tion­al pro­pa­gan­da dri­ven by a range of state-con­trolled media out­lets that push con­tent in sev­er­al lan­guages across every form of media. These out­lets have worked to under­mine accu­sa­tions of human rights vio­la­tions made by “anti-Chi­na forces.” […] State media’s mes­sag­ing is sup­port­ed by oth­er offi­cial gov­ern­ment Twit­ter accounts. Zhao Lijian, deputy direc­tor of the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs, mes­saged his 1 mil­lion fol­low­ers an aver­age of once a day in Eng­lish about Xin­jiang through­out Octo­ber and ear­ly Novem­ber 2021. […] Along­side these overt pro­pa­gan­da efforts, Chi­na has invit­ed for­eign jour­nal­ists and oth­er guests to view the Xin­jiang province first­hand. Some West­ern jour­nal­ists have come away from these trips clear­ly very skep­ti­cal. Oth­ers, how­ev­er, have tak­en up the party’s line and are eager­ly mag­ni­fied by state media. […] In addi­tion to indi­vid­ual jour­nal­ists, Chi­na has recruit­ed entire pub­li­ca­tions to help prop­a­gate its mes­sages. The Helsin­ki Times, for instance, which pro­claims in its own head­er to be “News from Fin­land,” has a large por­tion of its con­tent sup­plied in Eng­lish “in coop­er­a­tion” with China’s People’s Daily—likely often unbe­knownst to the read­er. […] With a swarm of inau­then­tic social media accounts, China’s efforts move from old-fash­ioned pro­pa­gan­da to 21st cen­tu­ry dis­in­for­ma­tion. The ways in which Chi­na employs inau­then­tic troll accounts in this case, how­ev­er, dif­fer from what is typ­i­cal­ly seen in the con­text of Russ­ian troll accounts. Analy­sis of Russ­ian dis­in­for­ma­tion has shown that, in the past, Russ­ian trolls have used social media offen­sive­ly, attack­ing the West by inte­grat­ing them­selves into iden­ti­ty groups and work­ing to under­mine insti­tu­tions while pulling con­ver­sa­tions in more extreme direc­tions. The Chi­nese trolls talk­ing about Xin­jiang, and arguably most troll accounts from past Chi­nese cam­paigns, are defen­sive trolls. They don’t work to attack the West; rather, they attempt to defend China’s interests.

Read the full report here.

The GIOR has exten­sive­ly cov­ered Chi­nese dis­in­for­ma­tion efforts regard­ing the sit­u­a­tion in Xin­jiang. We were the first 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.