A new report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has found the Chinese Communist Party is looking to influence international perceptions of the Chinese regime’s policies in the Xinjiang region through social media.
The campaign, which has featured videos from Uyghurs saying they’re happy with their life in the Xinjiang region, promoting Xinjiang as a tourism destination, and praising Beijing’s policies on the Uyghur people, have all been linked with the hashtag #StopXinjiangRumors on Twitter.
In the new report titled “#StopXinjiangRumors: The CCP’s decentralised disinformation campaign,” ASPI analysed the CCP’s online disinformation campaign to influence discussions about Xinjiang and distract from international criticisms of its human rights violations against the Uyghur population.
Despite abundant evidence and international condemnation, the CCP has constantly denied accusations of committing human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region towards Uyghurs, which includes forced labour, mass detention, sterilisation, and genocide.
The study revealed that a large number of inauthentic accounts, including some used to share pornographic material, are now being used to help with the CCP’s whitewashing efforts in multiple languages.
The report analysed two datasets removed by Twitter, “Xinjiang Online” (CNHU) (2,046 accounts and 31,269 tweets) and “Changyu Culture” (CNCC) (112 accounts and 35,924 tweets).
Twitter attributed both datasets to the Chinese regime, with the latter specifically linked to a company called Changyu Culture, which is connected to the Xinjiang provincial government. The #StopXinjiangRumors hashtag features prominently in both datasets.
Some key features of the datasets include:
- Flooding the net to “bury” critical content on platforms such as YouTube.
- Promotion of supporting “testimonials” from Uyghurs discussing their “happy” lives in Xinjiang and denouncing allegations of human rights abuses.
- Promotion of content from Western social media influencers which favour the CCP’s narratives on Xinjiang.
- Active interaction between network accounts and the accounts of CCP officials, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying.
- Cross-platform activities with videos from YouTube, Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) and links to the CCP’s state media.
- Use of repurposed spam accounts, some of which posted on Twitter about Korean TV dramas and porn material before, as well as potential use of automation.
The first dataset, CNHU, shared many videos originated from Douyin and worked to promote the CCP’s state media, such as China Daily, the China Global Television Network (CGTN), and Global Times.
This dataset contained a large number of rebuttals to international criticisms of the CCP’s policy in Xinjiang and featured phrases commonly seen in state propaganda, such as “Xinjiang is a wonderful land.”
“As we’ve noted, the network was active on issues related to health, such as life expectancy and population growth,” the authors stated in the report. “CCP policies in the region are framed as counterterrorism responses as a way of attempting to legitimise actions, while negative information and testimonies of abuse are simply denied or not reported.”
The second dataset, CNCC, is linked to Changyu Culture, a company connected to the Xinjiang provincial government and funded to create videos depicting Uyghurs as supportive of the CCP’s policies in Xinjiang. This network contained a large number of repurposed spam and porn accounts. It also had a focus on targeting former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was vocal in his criticism of the CCP.
Twitter gave advanced access to the two data sets to the authors of the report, although it hasn’t released the methodology by which the dataset was selected.
“The dataset may not represent a complete picture of Chinese state-linked information operations on Twitter,” the authors stated in the report.
ASPI is a defence and strategic policy think tank founded by the Australian Government for ideas on Australia’s defence, security, and strategic policy choices.