Anything but democracy in China
..yet the Chinese government wants the world to believe everything is just rosy
ProPublica and The New York Times exposed yet another Chinese government propaganda operation - a massive social media campaign to warp the global image of China with the backdrop of the winter Olympics in Beijing. This is not the first time the Chinese government has gone to such lengths..
Back in the summer of 2019, protests were ongoing in Hong Kong and a state-backed social media campaign directly targeted online conversations to undermine the legitimacy of those protests. At the time, Twitter was forced to suspend more than 200K accounts and Facebook removed thousands of accounts and pages from individuals associated with the Chinese government - all accounts were specifically designed to spread misinformation about the nature of the protests. Roughly a year after those protests, CNN reported Beijing imposed a law that “criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers,” which specifically targeted free speech as Western nations would define it.
And although Facebook and Twitter were used during the Hong Kong protests, those platforms have been banned on the mainland since 2009, two days prior to the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. In the prior year, China banned YouTube when Tibetan groups posted videos of China's brutal crackdown on Tibetan protests. While the Chinese government forcefully stifles democracy at home, it continues to argue on the world stage that it has a right to make its voice heard.
From accounts originating on the mainland, the Chinese Communist Party in 2021 built an “army of fake accounts that have retweeted Chinese diplomats and state media tens of thousands of times, covertly amplifying propaganda that can reach hundreds of millions of people — often without disclosing the fact that the content is government-sponsored.” The intent of such a campaign is to expand the government’s reach far beyond its followers by gaming the system to increase its popularity on the platform, thereby exposing users outside of their social media circle to their propaganda. According to the AP and Oxford Internet Institute investigation, the campaign in 2021 went beyond China wanting to shape public opinion around Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan. While their state-run campaigns aim to tell the “broader China story,” China’s foreign ministry repeatedly claims criticisms of their actions are rooted in discriminatory attitudes and that the government is using social media platforms to be more open and inclusive.
In their most recent campaign during the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government used more than 3,000 Twitter accounts to heap praise on the Chinese government (ranging from actual to utterly ridiculous claims) and simultaneously thwart existing global criticisms of Chinese policies (which includes genocide). For example, an account named Spicy Panda referred to the United States as “Uncle Liar,” who wields a deceiving propaganda campaign to stain the Olympics. Arguably none of the posts received much attention, but the issue of China cultivating a clearly false image of itself through a centralized and undemocratic process is now a persistent problem. Twitter, upon being notified of the ProPublica and The New York Times investigation, suspended hundreds of fake Chinese accounts.
In the summer of 2021, CNBC reported that TikTok, a growing social media platform with roughly a billion users worldwide, can share user data it collects with its corporate owners, which in turn can be legally demanded by the Chinese government. The issue going forward is that social media platforms cannot adequately address this growing problem for America; our democratic principles are clearly antithetical to how China operates domestically and internationally.
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