China Pays US Social Media Influencers to Promote Beijing Olympics, ‘Positive’ US–China News

By Eva Fu
Eva Fu
Eva Fu
China Reporter
Eva Fu is a New York-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on U.S.-China relations, religious freedom, and human rights. Contact Eva at eva.fu@epochtimes.com
December 14, 2021 Updated: December 22, 2021

Beijing is paying American social media influencers as part of a campaign to promote the Winter Olympic Games amid a wave of diplomatic boycotts from the West.

Under a $300,000 contract with the Chinese consulate in New York, Vippi Media, a New Jersey consulting firm, will oversee a marketing campaign through mid-March across Instagram, TikTok, and livestreaming platform Twitch.

The main goal is to present a favorable portrayal of the Beijing Games and U.S.–China relations, according to a Dec. 10 disclosure filed with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agent Registration Act. The filing was first reported by OpenSecrets, a Washington nonprofit organization that tracks campaign finance and lobbying data.

The 2022 Winter Games, hosted by Beijing, will take place from Feb. 4 through Feb. 20.

Vippi Media has received a $210,000 advance payment from the consulate, the filing shows.

The Chinese consulate instructed Vippi to hire eight social media influencers who have reached specified popularity levels—a minimum following of 100,000 is needed for five of them, and for the other three, at least 500,000.

Under the contract, dated Nov. 22, the influencers will be required to publish at least 24 posts focusing on the Olympics, Paralympics, and Chinese culture, such as athletes’ preparations in Beijing, new technologies deployed for the Games, “touching moments,” and Beijing’s history.

About one-fifth of the posts will need to focus on “cooperation and any good things in China-US relations.” Examples of this cited in the filing include high-level exchanges and “positive outcomes,” as well as collaboration on climate change, biodiversity, and new energy.

Vippi Media declined to comment.

The social media operation comes as the United States announced a diplomatic boycott against Beijing over the continuing suppression of Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang, a move that allies—including Canada, Australia, and the U.K.—have followed.

TAIWAN-CHINA-OLY-2022-BEIJING-RIGHTS
Human rights activists hold banners as they protest in Taipei against the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games to mark Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, 2021. (Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images)

The campaign spending is a fraction of the Chinese regime’s propaganda efforts run by state media.

From May to October, China Daily, an English language newspaper run by Beijing, reported a spending budget of over $5.5 million to advertise and distribute its newspaper to Western audiences. Yet the social media operation represents a new and more cost-effective frontier for the regime to spread and amplify its pro-China narratives globally.

The Chinese consulate expects the posts to get 3.4 million views by the end of the contract on March 13, nearly four times China Daily’s global circulation.

The regime has long been exploiting the power of social media to spread its narratives, both domestically and abroad.

Last year, leaked documents obtained by The Epoch Times showed the regime to be using proxy Facebook pages to assert Beijing’s sovereignty over the self-ruled island Taiwan and tout a hypothetical military invasion.

Earlier this month, Facebook’s parent company Meta said it took down around 600 accounts tied to Beijing that spread false claims around COVID-19 and other anti-U.S. messages. Twitter separately removed a total of 2,160 state-linked accounts that attempted to push back against Western criticism of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

CGTN, the international arm of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, also initiated a two-month campaign in April to enlist global media talents and social media celebrities who speak English. Participants who came out on top were offered a chance to become a part-time or full-time “storyteller” at CGTN’s bureaus in Washington, London, or Nairobi, Kenya.

Since last year, at least 14 influencers have posted Xinjiang-related content on Western social media platforms that aligned with Beijing’s official narrative, which were then leveraged by Chinese state-controlled accounts on U.S.-based social media platforms in as many as 556 posts, according to a recent analysis by think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Eva Fu
China Reporter
Eva Fu is a New York-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on U.S.-China relations, religious freedom, and human rights. Contact Eva at eva.fu@epochtimes.com