Late last month, the New York Times published a major investigation into a Chinese influence operation first covered in March by the Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR). The effort flooded YouTube with thousands of propaganda videos in which ordinary Chinese citizens deny any human rights violations of the Chinese government in Xinjiang and denounce Western companies. According to the NYT investigation:
June 22, 2021 These and thousands of other videos are meant to look like unfiltered glimpses of life in Xinjiang, the western Chinese region where the Communist Party has carried out repressive policies against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities. Most of the clips carry no logos or other signs that they are official propaganda. But taken together, the videos begin to reveal clues of broader coordination — such as the English subtitles in clips posted to YouTube and other Western platforms. A monthslong analysis of more than 3,000 of the videos by The New York Times and ProPublica found evidence of an influence campaign orchestrated by the Chinese government. The operation has produced and spread thousands of videos in which Chinese citizens deny abuses against their own communities and scold foreign officials and multinational corporations who dare question the Chinese government’s human rights record in Xinjiang. It all amounts to one of China’s most elaborate efforts to shape global opinion.
Read the full investigation here.
GIOR was the first publication to report on this Chinese influence operation on YouTube. More than three months ago, in March, we published our first investigation into the phenomenon. According to the GIOR investigation:
March 16, 2021 According to a Global Influence Operations Report investigation, YouTube is being flooded with hundreds of Chinese propaganda videos whitewashing China’s human rights violations against the Muslim Uyghur population in Xinjiang. GIOR has found evidence of several newly created YouTube accounts pushing the hashtag #StopXinjiangRumors and flooding the platform with hundreds of videos seeking to convince an English-speaking audience that Western states are spreading false claims about the situation of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. Just eight YouTube accounts have uploaded more than 616 videos in recent months.
Two months later, when the same propaganda network started a new campaign to denounce Western companies after they had criticized China’s policies in Xinjiang, we published a follow-up story. According to the second GIOR investigation:
May 11, 2021 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.
It is unclear whether or not New York Times was aware of our previous reporting on the subject, although a NYT writer had liked our story on Twitter.