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Fake Accounts on Twitter, YouTube Helped Beijing Spread Propaganda and Disinformation

Published: May 19, 2021
The main reason why these apps contain backdoors is due to the misplaced trust of developers. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

A new report published by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) details an in-depth study of Communist China’s efforts to flood social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter with fake accounts carrying pro-Beijing messaging. 

The report titled “The Covid-19 Story: Unmasking China’s Global Strategy,” was released on May 12 and documents how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “successfully activated existing media infrastructures to seed positive narratives globally amid the pandemic.”

The report was crafted via a survey, “a total of 54 journalist unions from 50 different countries and territories participated in the survey between December 2020 and January 2021 to gauge the extent of China’s global media outreach during Covid-19.”

Many of the Big Tech social media giants have been removing hundreds and, in some cases thousands, of fake accounts linked to the CCP.

The report states that “in August 2020, Google removed 2,500 fake YouTube accounts linked to China, while in September 2020, Facebook took down around 180 such accounts.”

A case study conducted by the IFJ involving Serbia discovered that via Twitter “more than 70 percent of the [pro-CCP] content was produced by a huge pro-Serbian government network of bot accounts.” Over 8,500 of these fake accounts, belonging to the Serbian government, were removed. 

The Digital Forensic Center (DFC) identified 30,000 tweets with their origins traced back to the Serbian bot accounts that had the key word ‘Kina’ [Serb for “China”] in them. “These tweets praised Chinese aid and lambasted the EU for its lack of assistance during the pandemic.”

Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, describes “China as a friend” and characterizes the CCP regime as Serbia’s “financial saviour.” 

China’s COVID narrative

The accounts published content with the goal to positively influence the narrative surrounding China’s role in, and reaction to, the COVID-19 pandemic. Their efforts appear to be working. 

The report states that “more than half of all countries said that coverage of China in their national media was more positive since the start of the pandemic.”

“Globally, 56 percent of all countries reported that coverage of China in their country had become more positive overall since the Covid-19 outbreak, while only 24 percent said coverage of China had become more negative,” the report stated. 

In countries that received Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines, it was found that the predominant media narrative was that “China’s fast action against Covid-19 has helped other countries.” 63 percent of countries surveyed indicated this belief while 23 percent indicated that “China’s cover up of the initial outbreak is the reason for [the] global nature of the outbreak.”

Countries that did not receive Chinese vaccines had a virtually opposite view of the CCP-backed messaging. Twenty-five percent believed China’s actions in the face of the pandemic were “fast,” while 60 percent viewed China’s actions as a “cover up.” 

Forty countries across the globe have been shipped the Chinese vaccines including Mexico and Serbia, as well as a host of African and Middle Eastern countries.

China’s presence in the social media sphere is varied and far reaching both on the surface and covertly. 

The massive global disinformation campaign has its roots in the CCP’s propaganda organs. The report states that “in June 2020, Twitter removed 23,750 Chinese accounts at the core of a highly organised network which fed into another 150,000 accounts that amplified this content.”

AFP reported that “a total of 270 Chinese diplomats in 126 countries are active on Twitter and Facebook. Together with Chinese state media, they control a total of 449 accounts on the two platforms.”

This is in addition to millions of workers employed as “public opinion analysts” by the Chinese government and private companies that constantly monitor the internet for posts that run afoul of the Party line.

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping issued a directive to the Chinese media in a 2016 address, “Wherever the readers are, wherever the viewers are, that is where propaganda reports must extend their new tentacles.”