The Chinese communist Party has always tried to influence the information spaces and media of other nations, utilisinga variety of tools to secure its nefarious objectives. Unfortunately, for a long time, there was no concrete evidence that could prove that China based forces were indulging in disinformation campaigns across the world. One is reminded of the aggressive disinformation campaign pursued by Moscow ahead of the 2016 US elections. China has been doing the
same for the past many years. Thankfully, after 2019 things have changed a bit. Many investigations and large scale takedowns of inauthentic accounts later, there is clear evidence that pro China forces have actively been carrying out broad range of manipulative activities on global social media platforms. They have also been constantly
adapting their tactics to ensure maximum efficacy.
Within the last six months, multiple investigations have been published on the same. Taken together- they point to an unrivalled scale of activities – surpassing even Russia – and hence leads to important implications for domestic politics worldwide. It also has critical implications for global search results and mobile phone users worldwide. The scale at which these Chinese actors are operating is remarkable in itself. A study in May by the Oxford internet Institute documented at least 26,000 Twitter accounts that amplified posts made by Chinese diplomats or state media. They did so at least 2,00,000 times before they were suspended by the platform for violating rules related to content manipulation. These accounts were in multiple languages. In the UK, a large proportion of re-tweets of tweets by then-Ambassador Liu Xiaoming came from fake accounts which were later suspended by Twitter. Google’s quarterly reports of takedowns on YouTube states that a total of 10,570 channels were removed for engaging in coordinated influence operations linked to China between January and September his year. Each month between 682 and 2,946 channels were removed. This is by far the largest set of takedown that has taken place. For comparison, only 192 channels linked to Russia were removed during this period.
YouTube seems to be the platform of choice for Chinese propagandists, even if the Chinese official and state media presence on Facebook and Twitter receives more attention. In another investigation, conducted by ProPublica, they found hundreds of videos of seemingly ordinary Uyghurs claiming that they “had seen statements made by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about severe rights violations in Xinjiang, but that it is all nonsense”. According to the investigators, the videos had been posted in coordinated time frames. The subject of one of the videos explained that they were made by local propaganda
authorities. Everyday new videos emerge.
The persistence behind these actions is noteworthy. China linked producers continually renew the supply of propaganda content even though global platforms remove accounts and channels identified as inauthentic.They add the false
dimension of public support to Chinese diplomatic statements, and effectively distort platform algorithms, and hence exposing more genuine users to Chinese government propaganda. These manipulations result in pro-China content filling the vacuum and find similar results during search. It was due to these accounts that the conspiracy that Covid19 originated in a lab at Fort, Maryland gained prominence. At one point, links from China Global Television Network and Global Times dominated search results rather than reputable sources that debunked these false theories. One may think that these Chinese channels focus mainly on improving Chinese image abroad. This is not the case. These channels have been found to
“spam” content related to Chinese music, lifestyle, foods etc. They often attack other governments too,such as “criticism of the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” “growing U.S. political divisions,” the U.S. COVID-19 vaccine rollout,”
and “social issues in the U.S.”
Another campaign exposed by FireEye and Google included posts from fake accounts that encouraged people in US to participate in protests either related to Covid 19 or even anti Asian racism. Thankfully, there is no evidence that people
responded to such goading. A Lithuanian cyber security unit has also found that Xiaomi phones sold outside of China have a expansive lost of censored keywords. Though this function is disabled in the European region, it can still be activated
remotely by the manufacturer. The list is currently at 1,300 words out of which at least 300 are from the English language. Censored words include June 4, Tibet, Xinjiang, Falun Gong etc. Even those media outlets which are considered critical
of Chinese viewpoints are censored, such as Apple daily. Clearly, there’s a need to monitor and combat this propaganda and to even eradicate it at source. Mutual cooperation of international bodies can speed up this