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New Study Examines China’s Disinformation Efforts on Social Media

August 2nd, 2021 18:04

RAND, a US think tank, has pub­lished a study exam­in­ing China’s dis­in­for­ma­tion efforts on social media. Accord­ing to the RAND study:

The Chi­nese mil­i­tary’s focus on infor­ma­tion war­fare is expand­ing to include infor­ma­tion oper­a­tions on social media. Giv­en the pos­si­bil­i­ty of U.S.-China con­flict over Tai­wan or anoth­er region­al con­tin­gency, under­stand­ing how the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) thinks about the use of dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns on social media has emerged as an impor­tant ques­tion for U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy­mak­ers and defense plan­ners. This report describes how the PLA might direct social media dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns against the Unit­ed States and its armed forces, espe­cial­ly the U.S. Air Force. […]

The study argues that Chi­na will incor­po­rate social media fur­ther into its mil­i­tary oper­a­tions, seek to com­mu­ni­cate direct­ly with Chi­nese-Amer­i­can mil­i­tary offi­cers to turn them against US poli­cies, and intro­duce infor­ma­tion that is dif­fi­cult for the Unit­ed States to defin­i­tive­ly refute. Accord­ing to the study’s key findings:

Chi­na is treat­ing Tai­wan as a test bed for devel­op­ing attack vec­tors using dis­in­for­ma­tion on social media. […]

Should out­right kinet­ic exchanges appear immi­nent or actu­al­ly occur, an ele­vat­ed lev­el of dis­in­for­ma­tion should be expect­ed, accom­pa­nied by mes­sages aimed at such key groups as senior polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary lead­ers, ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies, and base-host­ing communities.

Giv­en Chi­na’s con­trol over the Chi­nese-lan­guage social media plat­form WeChat and a gen­er­al belief among Chi­na authors that the glob­al eth­nic Chi­nese dias­po­ra is a favor­able vec­tor of influ­ence for Bei­jing to lever­age, Chi­na will like­ly seek to com­mu­ni­cate direct­ly with Chi­nese-Amer­i­can mil­i­tary offi­cers and per­son­nel and their fam­i­lies, attempt­ing to turn them against any U.S. poli­cies or oper­a­tions that Chi­na finds objectionable.

Chi­nese dis­in­for­ma­tion efforts also will like­ly seek to intro­duce infor­ma­tion that is dif­fi­cult for the Unit­ed States to defin­i­tive­ly refute, either because doing so would require reveal­ing clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion or because it is impos­si­ble to dis­prove a negative.

Read the full study here.

Recent GIOR report­ing on China’s social media dis­in­for­ma­tion efforts has included:

  • In July, we report­ed that Chi­nese-state-linked social media accounts are run­ning a cross-plat­form dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign tar­get­ing the Chi­nese diaspora
  • In July, we report­ed that the New York Times cov­ered a Chi­nese influ­ence oper­a­tion on YouTube, first exposed by a GIOR inves­ti­ga­tion in March.
  • In June, we rec­om­mend­ed a RAND study exam­in­ing Russ­ian and Chi­nese Covid-19-relat­ed ‘malign and sub­ver­sive infor­ma­tion efforts’ tar­get­ing US audiences.