US media is reporting how China taps private businesses to generate content on demand, draw followers, track critics, and provide other services for information campaigns on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. According to a New York Times report:
December 21, 2021 Documents reviewed by The Times have revealed in stark detail how Beijing taps private businesses to generate content on demand, draw followers, track critics and provide other services for information campaigns. That operation increasingly plays out on international social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which the Chinese government blocks at home. The files — part of a request for bids from contractors that was posted by the police in Shanghai — offer a rare glimpse into how China works to spread propaganda and sculpt opinion on global social media, including through the use of fake accounts and through targeted campaigns against online critics of the state. The documents were taken offline after The Times contacted the Chinese government about them. The request suggested that police officials understood the need for strong engagement with the public through profiles-for-hire. The deeper engagement lends the fake personas credibility at a time when social media companies are increasingly taking down accounts that seem inauthentic or coordinated.
Read the full investigation here.
The NYT investigation notes that as overseas Chinese propaganda campaigns have developed, they have come to rely more on visual media, with Chinese officials looking for companies to not only maintain and deploy fake accounts but to generate original video content as well.
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.