China Uses Global Social Media Platforms To Influence Foreign Audiences, Telecom News, ET Telecom
New Delhi: China is using social media giants like Twitter and Facebook to broadcast state propaganda to a global audience, compounded by fake Twitter accounts. This was revealed by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) in a seven-month investigation into social media accounts of Chinese state media and Chinese diplomats.
A global review by the OII and Associated Press found that Chinese diplomats and state media are very active on Twitter and Facebook, but only 14 percent of diplomatic accounts on Twitter are flagged as state media by the microblogging site.
Marcel Schliebs, PhD student and lead author of the paper at OII, University of Oxford, said: “We are finding that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is increasingly trying to use its diplomats to reinforce the state’s outward propaganda Media. Our analysis shows that PRC diplomats have active Twitter or Facebook accounts in at least 126 countries. “
The Chinese government is using these very social networks to influence foreign public opinion, which it has banned from its own public. The study suggests that “nearly half of all diplomatic retweets in the People’s Republic of China come from the 1% of the most active amplifiers.”
For their study, the Oxford researchers examined every tweet and every Facebook post produced between June 2020 and February 2021 by Chinese diplomats and ten of the largest state-controlled media outlets.
Chinese diplomats and government-sponsored media accounts have been very active on Twitter. Between June 2020 and February 2021, 189 diplomatic accounts tweeted 201,382 times and received nearly seven million likes, 1.3 million retweets and one million comments. Interestingly, many of these retweets came from accounts that Twitter had banned for violating its rules.
The researchers also found that despite Twitter and Facebook’s policy of flagging official accounts to increase transparency and accountability, only one in eight (14 percent) of Chinese diplomatic accounts on Twitter were clearly flagged as government accounts.
The Epoch Times cites another similar investigation, saying that two Twitter accounts – those of Liu Xiaoming, the former Chinese ambassador to the UK and the Chinese embassy in London – have been carefully scrutinized. This investigation found that from June 2020 to January 2021, a coordinated network of 62 accounts was dedicated to amplifying the messages from the two accounts.
Of the 62 accounts, 60 were finally blocked by Twitter, 29 of them for platform manipulation. The remaining two were deleted by their own users. The researchers say that these 62 accounts appeared to attract little interest from real users, but may have helped reinforce official Chinese content “by manipulating platform algorithms,” says The Epoch Times.
The study says that the Chinese government has an overwhelming presence on social networks. The researchers found 176 Twitter and Facebook accounts representing Chinese state-controlled media in English and other languages. These accounts were posted over 700,000 times, with the posts receiving 355 million likes with over 27 million comments and re-shares.
However, almost half of all Chinese official accounts are retweeted by the 1 percent of the most active accounts. These highly active accounts communicate very quickly with diplomats from the PRC and often retweet them thousands of times within a few months.
Commenting on the importance of the research, Professor Philip N. Howard, lead author of the study, said, “By uncovering the scale and scope of the PRC’s public diplomacy campaign, we can better understand how policymakers and social media companies are on an increasingly assertive PRC propaganda strategy. “