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Beyond the Great Firewall: China Weaponizing Social Media to Sway International Opinion.

Contractors Are Paid to Keep an Army of Social Profiles Ready to Do Xi’s Bidding.

Photo for: Beyond the Great Firewall: China Weaponizing Social Media to Sway International Opinion.

Key Points

  • Recent contractor documents revealed the extent to which China tries to sculpt its image on the world stage.
  • Xi Jinping and the CCP are using Facebook and Twitter outside of China to control the narrative on COVID and more.
  • Thousands of fake accounts are ready to do Xi’s bidding.

Facebook has 2.8 billion active monthly users all over the world; Twitter has more than 300 million. None of these users are in China, however, due to the social media ban. But Xi Jinping and the CCP understand the importance of social platforms and their ability to sway opinion.

That’s why China hires contractors to make fake accounts to improve its image on the international stage, silence its critics, and attack its enemies. The New York Times recently reviewed documents revealing the shocking extent of China’s disinformation campaign.

Some of the Chinese government’s asks include: “register[ing] accounts on social media platforms”; “disguis[ing] and maintain overseas social media accounts”; “creat[ing] original videos”; “collect[ing] overseas information.”

“Shanghai police posted a notice online seeking bids from private contractors for what is known among Chinese officialdom as public opinion management,” NYT reports. “Officials have relied on tech contractors to help them keep up with domestic social media and actively shape public opinion via censorship and the dissemination of fake posts at home. Only recently have officials and the opinion management industry turned their attention beyond China.”

“The Shanghai police are looking to create hundreds of fake accounts on Twitter, Facebook and other major social media platforms. The police department emphasizes that the task is time sensitive, suggesting that it wants to be ready to unleash the accounts quickly to steer discussion,” the report continues.

But what would this army of fake accounts be used for? How about, COVID disinformation.

“Recently, Facebook took down 500 accounts after they were used to spread comments from a Swiss biologist by the name of Wilson Edwards, who had purportedly written that the United States was interfering with the World Health Organization’s efforts to track the origins of the coronavirus pandemic,” NYT reports. “The Swiss embassy in Beijing said Wilson Edwards did not exist, but the fake scientist’s accusations had already been quoted by Chinese state media.”

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still getting its shoes on.

 Xi’s COVID disinformation campaign can easily be seen as a reaction to the growing support of the Wuhan lab leak theory, in which the origins of the pandemic can be traced back to gross incompetence (or worse) on behalf of the Wuhan institute of Virology.

In addition to misleading the international community, the CCP uses contractors and fake accounts to hunt down critics; they call it “touching the ground.”

“The document spells out how the Shanghai police want to discover the identities of people behind certain accounts and to trace their users’ connections to the mainland,” NYT reports. “Its officers can then threaten family members in China or detain the account holders when they return to the country in order to compel online critics to delete posts or even entire accounts.”

China using censorship and disinformation to control its citizens is nothing new. But the push to control opinions beyond the Great Firewall is a new take on an old trick.

And it’s incredibly dangerous.